Coal Tattoo

Reinventing fire: Amory Lovins on coal’s costs

Folks who follow the work of Rocky Mountain Institute co-founder Amory Lovins certainly are well aware that he’s got a new book out.  Called “Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era,” the volume is being promoted as a blueprint to the new energy era:

Business can become more competitive, profitable and resilient by leading the transformation from fossil fuel to efficiency and renewables. This transition will build a stronger economy, a more secure nation and a healthier environment.

I wanted to share a few things Lovins has to say in the book about coal:

Coal fires the power stations that generate 45 percent of U.S. and 41 percent of world electricity … Burning coal emits sulfur and nitrogen oxides (causing acid rain), particulates, mercury and other toxic metals … Coal ash from power plants pollutes streams. Mining coal injures and kills workers and inverts landscapes. Such hidden costs of U.S. coal-fired electricity total $180 to $530 billion per year. Properly charging that on our electric bills, rather than to our health and our kids, would double or triple the price of coal-fired electricity.

… Coal depletion, long assumed to be centuries off, may arrive unexpectedly soon. Coal resources had long been assessed with little or no attention to their exploitation cost. Recent reassessments of coal’s economic geology are more sobering, suggesting that ‘peak coal’ will occur within decades even in such coal-rich countries as the U.S. and China. Physical depletion could take much longer, but the cheap coal is going fast.

Lovins explains:

… Business, motivated by enduring advantage, supported by civil society, sped by effective policy — can advantageously achieve the ambitious transition beyond oil and coal by 2050, and later beyond natural gas, too … New technologies, and new ways of combining them, can wring several-fold more work from the same amount of energy. Those efficiency gains then allow renewable energy sources, equally enabled by modern information technology, to by deployed faster. The transition will create new industries with vast potential for jobs, profits, and better, cheaper, more robust services.

Check it out …