Despite Successful Building of Clean Energy, Simultaneous New Fossil Fuel Generation Undercutting those Goals
- March 21, 2019
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The energy and utility industries have been rightfully focused in recent years on building out their fleet of clean power generators. From new utility-scale solar and wind facilities to extending existing nuclear power plants to even more modern solutions like distributed energy resources, energy storage, and demand response models, the goal has been to create as many sources as possible of clean power generation so we can create a power grid that's lower carbon and eventually carbon neutral.
As much success has been made in that regard, which is the topic on which many posts on this community of Energy Central focus, a concerning trend for clean power advocates to watch is the corresponding moves of the fossil fuel industry. While an ideal world would see clean power directly replacing fossil fuel, the reality is much more complicated. Power needs grow and need additional generation, intermittent nature of many clean power sources mean a one-for-one replacement is often not possible, and the economics of building out some fossil fuel generation have not phased out investors quite yet.
So as the clean power transition attempts to take hold, it's important to also note where those efforts might be getting undercut by new infrastructure that will be long-standing sources of carbon-intensive energy generation and behaviors:
- The executive director of the International Energy Agency recently noted that the surge in U.S. and Canadian oil production over the past year is pushing the planet's climate goals out of reach, suggesting that the number of production surge from North America has been the equivalent to adding "one Russia or one Saudi Arabia" to the global oil markets, with natural gas production telling a "similar story."
- Despite famous efforts and coordination with Elon Musk to build out energy storage and other clean tech technologies, the coal industry is still seeing some new builds in Australia in contrast to much of the rest of the world where investors are not putting up any new coal generation. As one example, a deal has been signed to develop two massive new coal power plants in the New South Wales Hunter Region totaling about 2,000 MW of coal power.
- While other nations (namely China and the United States) remain the largest global producers of coal to feed coal power plants, recent study finds that low-quality coal is specifically being burned in Eastern Europe, Russia, and India where older power plants have less sophisticated equipment and end up releasing more pollutants per unit of energy created.
- Additionally, the liquefied natural gas (LNG) market has been exploding-- with the United States and Canada building out export terminals and countries in Asia building out import infrastructure, such as in China and Vietnam.
How do these type of new builds in the fossil fuel generation industry affect the clean power industry? Does it affect their viability or competitiveness? How damaging are the fossil fuel trends to the long-term clean power goals?