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Diversity is the key to successful long-term energy strategy

November 02, 2016   By Susan Jackson in Environmental Stewardship

Most financial advisers agree a well-diversified portfolio is preferable over putting all money eggs in one basket.

The same holds true for our nation’s energy portfolio and diversification is the key to meeting national electricity requirements. Coal and gas, both abundant and economical fossil fuels, continue to be an important part of that mix, and will continue as a dominant global energy source far into the future.

With technology and regulations we have mastered previous environmental challenges associated with coal, such as achieving significant reductions in sulfur dioxide or SO2. Yet, coal continues to be challenged because of carbon dioxide (CO2).

Options, such as the use of carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) technologies, are needed to address CO2. BP Energy Outlook 2016 notes levels of CO2 emissions are expected to grow by 20 percent from 2014 to 2035

The United States Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz requested the National Coal Council (NCC) assess opportunities to “advance commercial markets for CO2 from coal based power generation.” The NCC is a Federal Advisory Committee to the Secretary of Energy, providing advice and recommendations on general policy related to coal. A response report "CO2 Building Blocks: Assessing CO2 Utilization Options,” was published August 2016.

The report is thought provoking. It calls for support for research and development, and incentives to advance CO2 utilization technologies. It assesses geologic and non-geologic CO2 options.

The report acknowledges that “there is a growing consensus among industry, the environmental community and governments that future CO2 emission-reduction goals cannot be met by renewable energy sources alone, and that CCUS technologies for all fossil fuels will have to be deployed to achieve climate objectives in the U.S. and globally, and to ensure a reliable power grid.”

So, “renewables only” will not meet the required CO2 reductions, and coal is critical to meeting our energy needs.

What else can be done? The most impactful action the U.S. can employ to reduce CO2 emissions is to incentivize the rapid deployment CCUS technologies, according to the report. The report identified use of CO2 for enhanced oil recovery as the most immediate and highest value opportunity for uses of large volumes of CO2.

Other paths forward were also identified in the report including non-geologic markets such as production of plastics, agricultural fertilizers and others.