Implication: Killing coal quickly could be a disaster
“It takes several lifetimes to put a new energy system into place, and wishful thinking can’t speed things along.”
So says Vaclav Smil in a new article, “A Skeptic Looks at Alternative Energy,” in the respected “IEEE Spectrum,” the main journal from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
Smil points out that a lot of energy innovation, such as setting up a photovoltaic generating station in often cloudy Bavaria, “happened for the best reason there is in politics: money.” His implication: solid engineering and simple cost analysis tend to not be part of the process.
Of wind turbines, Smil says after 30 years of development, these individually very small generators supplied somewhat less than three percent of the total US electrical power produced in 2011. That’s all.
Smil’s basic point is important: historically it has taken decades for one energy source to significantly supplant another.
No politician can wave a magic wand and undue the facts of life of technology development, especially when we are talking about making a major shift in a huge enterprise like the US power generation and distribution system.
Smil’s article certainly raises concerns about the EPA’s apparently accelerating plan to dump coal out of the US energy production equation. The EPA can indeed shut down coal plants pretty quickly with burdensome mandates. But, that doesn’t mean replacement energy systems will suddenly appear despite all the wishful thinking of the most enthusiastic Greenies – or their political allies at the EPA, either.
If you dump coal without a viable, economical replacement in Kentucky, the Bluegrass State will lose around 80 percent of its electrical power. That is an equation for disaster.