Fight the Power Flash Mob


Students hold their fists in the air in protest of the America’s Energy Future conference hosted by Washington University Monday. Green Action organized a flashmob to encourage the energy executives in attendance at the conference to go to a student-led energy symposium on alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power held the same day.

  • If we were to stop using coal tomorrow (and this won’t happen), not only would many people lose their jobs, but, according to many scientists, the earth’s temperature would rise several degrees, This is according to the scenario described in the PBS Nova episode on global dimming and the cooling effect of air pollutants in the upper atmosphere. The transition to clean energy will have to be managed very carefully.

    Let’s have clean energy as soon as possible. Let’s find a better way than polluting the air to keep our planet cool.

  • Anonymous

    While coal is a limited resource, the US controls about 27% of the total world’s coal reserve which amounts to the US having 272 BILLION TONS of coal as of now. I’ll now go through some math to prove my point.

    (You can get a lot of this data from Using values from this website, the US generated 4063 billion kW-hr in 2007. Assuming an exponential increase in the amount of electricity generated and using the projection from of a 25% increase by 2030 (this is pretty generous considering better energy efficient devices and better conservation practices), you can make an equation of exponential form A=A0e^(kt) with t being years. Using the projection you can calculate a value of k. Now take the total current US coal reserves (these are proven) and divide by the average energy content of coal, 13,000 BTU/lb. (there are many different types of coal depending on the region). This gives the total energy content able to be extracted. Multiply this by an average efficiency of coal power generated plants, 30% (this will obviously increase with time but 30% will be used for simplicity’s sake and to give the worst case scenario). You can then solve for t, years, which turns out to become 438 YEARS!!!

    The finite resource argument is obviously not of concern for the near future because with the following conditions assuming all the electricity is generated using coal with the lowest current efficiency, coal will be available in the US for use for 438 years. This length of time will obviously increase while other technologies are utilized.

    I’m not suggesting that we should continue using coal for that amount of time, but any argument suggesting phasing out coal immediately because of its limited supply is obviously misguided.

  • Let’s all stop burning coal as soon as possible, but let this be done in the least disruptive way possible, with minimal job loss. Of course people whose jobs and way of life depend on coal will resist change. Who can blame them?

  • CB

    No matter how “clean” you make coal or natural gas or whatever, you’ll never get around the fact that supplies are finite. We need truly renewable energy sources so that we don’t have to worry about our future energy security.

  • Haddaway

    Watt is love?

  • Jeff

    whats energy?

  • Anonymous

    There are quite a few responses needed so I’ll start from the top.

    “Not living in a dreamland,” you are right in stating that many states could potentially sustain all their energy needs with renewable energy. What the article forget to touch on and most environmentalists ironically tend to forget is the cost. But wait, doesn’t it state that energy prices for these technologies has significantly decreased? Yes, it’s true. But it’s also a little misleading. The average cost of coal-generated electricity is $.05/kW-hr with it reaching $.10/kW-hr in places like NY. Wind and solar are getting lower every year but are still in a range above $.10 or so (this depends greatly on the region). The reason for this is that capital costs are not being factored into this cost. The government is subsidizing most new alternative energy projects which is great, but the money has to come from some source and that means taxes. So yes, I’m more than positive that we can sustain our energy needs with current alternative energy sources. What you forget is that typical solar farms costing $millions have average max capacities of 25 MW and wind farms reaching maybe 100 MW. The average coal power plant reaches capacities of 500 MW to 1.5 GW (1500MW). In terms of capital costs, they’re about 80% cheaper per MW to build. With such small capacities, we would require thousands of solar farms and wind farms. This would cause concern over land usage and we can even get into health issues as wind turbines move closer and closer to residential areas causing significant noise pollution, and with the requirement of high voltage power lines to transfer this generated energy, higher risks for cancer.

    In terms of the research aspect, yes CCS is not in any sort of production scale quite yet, but that is not the main part of Clean Coal Technologies. You also forget that wind and solar are not perfect. In fact, efficiencies for these are either outrageously low with cheaper cells like Dye-Sensitized Cells or decent with very expensive and less flexible silicon photovoltaics. We’re already pumping billions and billions of dollars into solar cell research (Wash U received a $20 billion grant from the DOE).

    For “Grounded in Reality,” you proved my point in this article that you don’t quite understand this whole Clean Coal thing. Clean Coal is quite simply a name pointing to the coal technologies that allow for higher efficiency power generation, separation of pollutants, and future carbon capture and sequestration. All you looked for in my argument was semantic issues. I admitted that the term “Clean Coal” might be misleading to the public because it portrays a false image of coal being burned completely clean and free from all pollutants and GHG’s. By stating that we currently have Clean Coal technologies, I’m stating that there are currently technologies that allow us to burn coal more efficiently and cleaner. I’m not trying to convince you that it’s perfectly clean.

    The fact is, many of the issues that come from coal power plants are there because many power plants are extremely outdated. Some 40 year old power plants continue to run in terrible shape that don’t implement new technologies to clean up the combusted materials, but they can’t be replaced due to government regulation. Many of you are mistaken in thinking that we don’t have Clean Coal technologies NOW. We can easily increase power plant efficiencies from 30% up to 50-60% by replacing outdated plants and retrofitting old ones. Technologies such as IGCC which actually gasifies the coal allowing for easier separation of sulfur and other hazardous compounds and then generating CH4, using the heat to generate steam so that a steam turbine AND a natural gas turbine can be utilized for maximum efficiency. You are even able to utilize a SOFC (Solid Oxide Fuel Cell) with the excess heat so that you have 3 sources of electricity generation within one cycle. This keeps wasted heat to a minimum. There are a few examples of these plants working in other countries like Sweden but not in the US. Why? Government regulation. So yes, we can’t capture the CO2 right now but we can definitely hit the source of all that CO2 (combusting coal) and therefore decrease the amount of coal needed to be burned (which will decrease CO2 output/kW-hr).

    The fact is, I completely support alternative energy sources. I really do. I would love to be able to eliminate the need to burn coal. The issue right now is that I’m not willing to empty the wallets of those who can barely afford electricity now because we want to jump right into the future. Instead, a more gradual approach must be made with diversity of energy. Alternative energy sources won’t eliminate all our problems. There are plenty of issues with them as well. You talk about environmental impacts. Take hydrothermal power for instance. There are plenty of negative implications with drilling deep into the earth to retrieve heat to bring it to the surface. Not only do you destroy habitats, but the temperature changes underground due to the loss of heat could definitely cause some issues. Solar energy also has plenty of issues in terms of land usage. Yes, maybe the problems aren’t as big of an issue as with coal, but let us not forget that there is not one end-all solution.

    Alright, that’s all for now. Oh, and for credibility sakes I am a chemical engineer. I don’t claim to know everything (I definitely don’t), but this is definitely not just an extracurricular activity for me. I plan to make my career on this.

  • JM

    The frustrating thing about “clean coal,” or CCS technology, is that it is a good idea. But that’s the trouble. It’s an idea that is being framed as a current and feasible reality. I think “anonymous”‘ post represents how troublesome the marketing of this technology really is.
    True, we have the ability to clean up the emissions from coal plants, and I strongly believe that these best practices should be legally mandated at the coal companies’ cost.
    What concerns me is that CCS technology is being touted in academic circles as a necessary step for the interim between current fossil fuel dependency and the future of renewables. This is a marketing ploy by dirty companies trying to keep themselves from becoming obsolete.
    CCS is at least a decade away from becoming a reality, and even if it does, it still results in mountaintop removal, the poisoning of water sources in mining towns, dirty transportation, dirty emissions. If CO2 was the only problem with coal, we would be a blessed nation. And in response to Anonymous, CCS will cost trillions as well.
    I think the question is not, Is CCS a clean, feasible technology? (and it’s not). The question is, Is CCS the cleanest, most feasible technology? As you might guess, it’s not that either.

  • Vidya

    I’d like to remind you, anonymous, that no matter how much carbon is sequestered, the mining and burning of coal for energy is a dirty process from start to finish. Clean the whole thing up (I dare you to try), and it’s still, for all intensive purposes, a finite resource. Sustainability is a hope that can’t stop at 100 years or even 1,000 years. We need to design a way of living that works in perfect sync with Nature.

    I’d also like to add that there are many other renewable technologies that are at least as deserving of research funding: geothermal, WAVE/tidal energy :), and hydroelectric, to name a few. Your powers combined, I am Captain Planet!

  • Grounded in reality

    Anonymous, I find your argument faulty. You claim that “clean coal” technologies currently exist, yet in the very next sentence you claim that there is still work to be done to “further minimize pollutants and GHG’s with things like carbon sequestration and more efficient scrubbers and catalysts to extract pollutants from smoke stacks.” How do clean coal technologies exist when all these issues still need to be addressed? I would agree with you, if you said cleaner coal technologies exist. I ask you, is mountain top removal clean? Is toxic fly ash clean? We must have very different definitions of the word clean.

    Furthermore, you claim that solar and wind are not applicable to the near future, yet you ignore the timeline regarding carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies. CCS is twenty years away from widespread commercial application at best, and most importantly still exists only as theory. Solar, wind, and geothermal power, however, are actual technologies that provide actual solutions. Should we invest money in pursuing a theory or in scaling up a reality? I know what my answer is.

    I appreciate Anonymous’ concern and respect his passion for this issue and the clear research he has devoted in formulation of his comment. I would encourage further research on his part and a reappraisal of his definition of clean.

  • Not living in a dreamland

    Perhaps “anonymous” should do some research of their own. Who says we cannot sustain our energy needs with purely solar and wind technologies? Maybe that’s what Arch Coal wants people to think. But scientists studying the subject think otherwise:

    And YES this can be in the near future. We could put up a wind farm tomorrow. CCS however needs much more research, as well as billions of dollars to make it happen.

  • Anonymous

    What’s sad is that groups like Green Action on campus don’t even have much knowledge on the things they are fighting against. I like how they say “clean coal” doesn’t actually exist. So maybe it’s not the best name to call such technologies, but nonetheless, Green Action needs to stop fighting the wording of these technologies and actually argue against any sort of fallacy in the actual technologies present. And yes, clean coal technologies DO exist currently. For starters, why don’t you read some books or even Google things like “IGCC (Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle)” or “ultra supercritical boilers”. There is still obviously research being done in clean coal technologies to further minimize pollutants and GHG’s with things like carbon sequestration and more efficient scrubbers and catalysts to extract pollutants from smoke stacks.

    I guess the point I want to make is that it is not possible or feasible to sustain our future energy needs with purely solar and wind technologies. I’m fully for innovating in these areas, but in reality, it won’t be in the near future. Therefore, we need to utilize upgrades to conventional technologies that we have NOW. If you want to make a difference in terms of CO2 emissions, work with something we have now. I could easily show you figures of the sheer cost ($ trillions) and land area for that matter that would be required for solar and wind to replace coal. It would definitely not be economically feasible.

    Green Action needs to stop living in their little dreamland and start facing reality. They would get some actual respect from me if they actually had a feasible plan to implement their goals. All I see of them though is trying to recruit naive students and make them blindly believe in their ill-thought out statements and form protests around campus.