Energy and global warming news for January 2, 2011: Deutsche Bank calls coal “a dead man walking”; New solar cell is 98% plastic and catches a whopping 85% of collectible sunlight

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"Energy and global warming news for January 2, 2011: Deutsche Bank calls coal “a dead man walking”; New solar cell is 98% plastic and catches a whopping 85% of collectible sunlight"

Deutsche Bank predicts coal’s share of electric power generation will tumble further, from 47 percent in 2009 to 34 percent in 2020 and 22 percent in 2030.

Coal’s burnout: Have investors moved on to cleaner energy sources?

The headline news for the coal industry in 2010 was what didn’t happen: Construction did not begin on a single new coal-fired power plant in the United States for the second straight year.

This in a nation where a fleet of coal-fired plants generates nearly half the electricity used.

But a combination of low natural gas prices, shale gas discoveries, the economic slowdown and litigation by environmental groups has stopped – at least for now – groundbreaking on new ones.

“Coal is a dead man walkin’,” says Kevin Parker, global head of asset management and a member of the executive committee at Deutsche Bank. “Banks won’t finance them. Insurance companies won’t insure them. The EPA is coming after them. . . . And the economics to make it clean don’t work.”

From 2000 to 2008, construction started on 20 units in 19 plants, according to Edison Electric Institute. Last year, utilities and power-generating companies dropped plans to build 38 coal plants while announcing that they would retire 48 aging, inefficient ones, according to the environmental group Sierra Club.

Although 2010 saw the collapse of climate legislation in the Senate, the Sierra Club is trumpeting such statistics as a sign that “coal is a fuel of the past.”

The battle over coal plants could sharpen in 2011, as the Environmental Protection Agency deploys regulations to improve the efficiency – and lower the greenhouse gas emissions – of big power plants.

… the average age of the U.S. coal fleet is 43 years, with more than half the plants built before 1967….Even if coal is not dead, developments of the past two years have dimmed its future.

The fate of the long-planned Smith Unit No. 1 coal plant in Kentucky is one example. The East Kentucky Power Cooperative announced plans five years ago to build the 278-megawatt plant, and it obtained permits from the Kentucky Public Service Commission. But environmental groups, joined by critics of federally subsidized loans to rural electric cooperatives, fought the project.

Then the recession hit and tipped the scales. A couple of months ago, the cooperative slashed 9 percent from its forecast of electricity demand among the half-million customers it serves.

As a result, East Kentucky Power canceled the Smith coal plant construction on Nov. 18, even though it has spent about $150 million stockpiling steel and parts. “And that’s almost entirely due to the economy,” says Nick Comer, the cooperative’s manager of external affairs. Finishing the plant would have cost an estimated $819 million more.

“Back in 2006-07, the economy was roaring. In our service territory we were seeing growth at about twice the national rate,” Comer says. “There were a lot of new houses, new businesses; even manufacturing was expanding.”

But, Comer adds, “a lot of that has changed today. Housing starts are down. Manufacturers have cut back. So we expect demand for electricity is going to be down from what we had projected for a while.”

The story is the same across the nation. Coal consumption in the electric power sector during the first nine months of 2010 was up from 2009, but still down 5.7 percent from 2008’s near-record levels, according to EIA figures.

East Kentucky Power also signed a settlement with environmental groups under which it will install additional pollution control devices and further explore renewable energy options.

Cheap natural gas
American Electric Power, the nation’s largest generator of electricity, is also taking a cautious approach. The only plant AEP has under construction is the highest efficiency model, known as “ultra supercritical.” Under the new EPA guidelines, these high-efficiency plants could become the standard, reducing coal use.

“We have no other coal-fueled generation planned at this time,” says Pat D. Hemlepp, a spokesman for AEP. “The decline in demand has delayed the need for additional new generation.”

If AEP does need new generation capacity, it will turn to natural gas. In 2010, the wellhead price of natural gas has averaged $4.25 a thousand cubic feet, about 40 percent below the average price from 2005 to 2009 and well under half the peak price.

Discoveries of new ways to tap natural gas trapped in shale rock have unlocked supplies that could keep prices in check for years to come.

“When we do need new capacity, it is highly likely that we will look to natural gas plants instead of coal, especially if natural gas prices remain as low as projected,” Hemlepp says. “The plants are less expensive to build, and current forward price projections favor gas over coal.”

It’s a decision being made by utilities across the country. A recent Deutsche Bank report says that if gas prices remain between $4 and $6 a thousand cubic feet, “we believe that a coal to gas switch makes sense.”

Even though Congress failed to enact climate legislation, more than half the states have adopted measures requiring utilities to use more renewable energy. To meet those targets, most investment will probably go into solar, wind, nuclear and energy efficiency projects.

Environmental groups are gearing up to challenge coal plants state by state. The Sierra Club is expanding its ranks this year so that 100 full-time staffers will be working on the issue, and the Environmental Defense Fund is hiring additional lawyers to wage battle against coal.

Given the age of the coal fleet, many of the oldest plants also run afoul of clean air guidelines on traditional pollutants.

As a result, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission recently adopted a $1.4 billion plan that will end coal-fired electricity generation in the Denver area. It calls for Xcel Energy to close four coal-fired units in the region, switch another to natural gas and build a new gas-fired plant to help meet federal clean-air standards. The units are all more than 40 years old.

The plan was required under the Colorado Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act, signed by Gov. Bill Ritter (D) in April….

The Obama administration might also target coal-fired power plants as a way to meet its goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, even if legislation remains beyond its grasp. Administration officials have spoken of negotiating guidelines with big utilities, similar to automobile fuel efficiency standards, but utility executives say such talks are not yet taking place.

Deutsche Bank’s Parker thinks that a path to lower coal use not only makes financial sense but climate sense as well.

“Switching coal to natural gas and renewable energy with a modest buildup of nuclear energy is achievable and could lead to a 29 percent reduction in CO2 emissions from the U.S. power sector by 2020 and a 44 percent reduction by 2030 compared to a 2005 baseline,” the bank wrote in its November report on a low-carbon energy plan for the United States….

Deutsche Bank predicts coal’s share of electric power generation will tumble further, from 47 percent in 2009 to 34 percent in 2020 and 22 percent in 2030.

It put it this way in its report: “Based on today’s energy fundamentals, the rational economic decision is to shutter inefficient coal plants and replace them with natural gas combined-cycle power plants.”

solarwires caltech photo

Caltech Researchers Create Highly Absorbing, Flexible Solar Cells with Silicon Wire Arrays

PASADENA, Calif.””Using arrays of long, thin silicon wires embedded in a polymer substrate, a team of scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has created a new type of flexible solar cell that enhances the absorption of sunlight and efficiently converts its photons into electrons. The solar cell does all this using only a fraction of the expensive semiconductor materials required by conventional solar cells.

“These solar cells have, for the first time, surpassed the conventional light-trapping limit for absorbing materials,” says Harry Atwater, Howard Hughes Professor, professor of applied physics and materials science, and director of Caltech’s Resnick Institute, which focuses on sustainability research.

The light-trapping limit of a material refers to how much sunlight it is able to absorb. The silicon-wire arrays absorb up to 96 percent of incident sunlight at a single wavelength and 85 percent of total collectible sunlight. “We’ve surpassed previous optical microstructures developed to trap light,” he says.

Atwater and his colleagues””including Nathan Lewis, the George L. Argyros Professor and professor of chemistry at Caltech, and graduate student Michael Kelzenberg””assessed the performance of these arrays in a paper appearing in the February 14 advance online edition of the journal Nature Materials.

Atwater notes that the solar cells’ enhanced absorption is “useful absorption.”

“Many materials can absorb light quite well but not generate electricity””like, for instance, black paint,” he explains. “What’s most important in a solar cell is whether that absorption leads to the creation of charge carriers.”

The silicon wire arrays created by Atwater and his colleagues are able to convert between 90 and 100 percent of the photons they absorb into electrons””in technical terms, the wires have a near-perfect internal quantum efficiency. “High absorption plus good conversion makes for a high-quality solar cell,” says Atwater. “It’s an important advance.”

The key to the success of these solar cells is their silicon wires, each of which, says Atwater, “is independently a high-efficiency, high-quality solar cell.” When brought together in an array, however, they’re even more effective, because they interact to increase the cell’s ability to absorb light.

“Light comes into each wire, and a portion is absorbed and another portion scatters. The collective scattering interactions between the wires make the array very absorbing,” he says.

This effect occurs despite the sparseness of the wires in the array””they cover only between 2 and 10 percent of the cell’s surface area.

caltech solar image

“When we first considered silicon wire-array solar cells, we assumed that sunlight would be wasted on the space between wires,” explains Kelzenberg. “So our initial plan was to grow the wires as close together as possible. But when we started quantifying their absorption, we realized that more light could be absorbed than predicted by the wire-packing fraction alone. By developing light-trapping techniques for relatively sparse wire arrays, not only did we achieve suitable absorption, we also demonstrated effective optical concentration””an exciting prospect for further enhancing the efficiency of silicon-wire-array solar cells.”

Each wire measures between 30 and 100 microns in length and only 1 micron in diameter. “The entire thickness of the array is the length of the wire,” notes Atwater. “But in terms of area or volume, just 2 percent of it is silicon, and 98 percent is polymer.”

In other words, while these arrays have the thickness of a conventional crystalline solar cell, their volume is equivalent to that of a two-micron-thick film.

Since the silicon material is an expensive component of a conventional solar cell, a cell that requires just one-fiftieth of the amount of this semiconductor will be much cheaper to produce.

The composite nature of these solar cells, Atwater adds, means that they are also flexible. “Having these be complete flexible sheets of material ends up being important,” he says, “because flexible thin films can be manufactured in a roll-to-roll process, an inherently lower-cost process than one that involves brittle wafers, like those used to make conventional solar cells.”

Atwater, Lewis, and their colleagues had earlier demonstrated that it was possible to create these innovative solar cells. “They were visually striking,” says Atwater. “But it wasn’t until now that we could show that they are both highly efficient at carrier collection and highly absorbing.”

The next steps, Atwater says, are to increase the operating voltage and the overall size of the solar cell. “The structures we’ve made are square centimeters in size,” he explains. “We’re now scaling up to make cells that will be hundreds of square centimeters””the size of a normal cell.”

Atwater says that the team is already “on its way” to showing that large-area cells work just as well as these smaller versions.

h/t Treehugger

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32 Responses to Energy and global warming news for January 2, 2011: Deutsche Bank calls coal “a dead man walking”; New solar cell is 98% plastic and catches a whopping 85% of collectible sunlight

  1. Barry says:

    “Banks won’t finance them. Insurance companies won’t insure them. The EPA is coming after them. . . . And the economics to make it clean don’t work.”

    What an amazing quote to start the new year! Maybe 2011 will actually see a shift towards honesty in international discussions about too-dangerous-to-burn coal.

  2. Prokaryotes says:

    Deutsche Bank calls coal “a dead man walking”

    Which bank is still in support of coal enterprises? With at least mountaintop removal there is almost no major bank in support. This is about accountability, moral and ethic violations.

    Who again is a die hard in favor of coal?

  3. Mike Roddy says:

    Please keep us posted on this exciting solar cell research at Caltech. I’ve been told that PV collectors are usually less than 20% efficient. How does this calculation relate to the 90+% solar capture rate described in this summary?

    Another question: do the assumptions about coal plant retirements factor in a carbon price?

  4. Leif says:

    Science gives us Solar…

    Tea Party gives us “Pollution-for-Profits…

    Who do you love?

  5. Prokaryotes says:

    Ethiopia-Kenya: Deaths as drought scorches region

    Bad to worse

    “So far, about 30,000 people are facing starvation in the district and the situation is going from bad to worse,” Mr Mwangi told the Sunday Nation.

    Livestock in the area have for the last few months been dying in large numbers. The government had early last month been asked to make urgent interventions after the district steering group in Marsabit North District, which comprises the newly created North Horr and Chalbi districts, conducted a survey to establish the extent of the drought in the area.

    In the report dated December 3, 2010, the district steering group said: “The assessment was carried out in the period of alarm to emergency stages of the drought cycle.

    “We witnessed cases of livestock dying as a result of starvation and lack of water, especially sheep and goats. Emergency intervention is therefore required.”

    “The situation is so bad since the last batch of relief food supplies from the government was received here in September. And 90 per cent of the maize we distributed was not edible,” Mr Mwangi said.

    Carcasses of animals especially along Marsabit-Moyale highway are now strewn all over – an indication that the drought has reached a critical stage. The worst affected areas, Mr Mwangi said, include Bubisa, Turbi and Burgabo, which are along the highway. http://www.nation.co.ke/News/Deaths%20as%20drought%20scorches%20region%20%20/-/1056/1082152/-/mnif4wz/-/

  6. Leland Palmer says:

    The silicon wire solar cells are exciting, no doubt about it.

    But 85% light absorption efficiency does not equal 85% efficiency in conversion of sunlight to electricity, as most CP readers probably already know. Likely the overall efficiency is twenty percent or less, and maybe less than ten percent.

    The low cost and low silicon use, and flexibility are very cool, though. So they still might be economically viable if they can scale them up.

    I wonder if different diameter silicon wires could absorb different spectral bands, leading to higher efficiency? I know silicon nanocrystals can do this using quantum well effects, but these silicon wires are almost certainly too big.

    Hmmm…how about mixing silicon and gallium arsenide wires, in the same cell? That would provide different absorption bands and higher efficiency, perhaps…or multi-layer wire cells, with the arsenide layers on top, like the Boeing high efficiency concentrator cells?

    The low materials usage of the cells would allow expensive materials like gallium arsenide to be used, maybe…

    Very interesting. Thanks, Joe.

  7. Ziyu says:

    @Lehand, well, technically you multiply conversion efficiency times the capture efficiency. In this case, it’s 0.85 x 0.9 = 0.765. So the cell efficiency is 76.5%. That number will get lower in panel efficiency and then module efficiency. But it should still yield at least 50% overall efficiency. It’s an amazing breakthrough in both efficiency and cost.

  8. Leland Palmer says:

    American Electric Power is taking a cautious approach on coal?

    The Supreme Court is hearing a lawsuit against them. Perhaps caution is
    warranted:

    Supreme Court: American Electric Power versus Connecticut

    American Electric Power Co. versus Connecticut: High court will review climate change lawsuit

    Published: Monday, December 06, 2010

    WASHINGTON (AP) — In a new case about climate change, the Supreme Court will hear an appeal from electric utilities that are trying to short-circuit an effort by states to force cuts in power plant emissions.

    The court agreed Monday to consider ending a federal lawsuit by eight states, New York City and others that accuse the power companies of being among the largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the world. The suit asks a federal judge to order reductions in the emissions in plants in 20 states.

    A federal judge initially threw out the case, but the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said it could continue.

    The lawsuit says carbon dioxide is one of the chief causes of global warming. The greenhouse gas is produced when coal, gasoline and other fossil fuels burn.

    Similar lawsuits are pending in California and North Carolina.

    The American Electric Power Co. and the other utilities do not want courts getting involved in the issue. The companies argue that only the Environmental Protection Agency can set emissions standards.

    The other utilities are Cinergy Co., Southern Co. Inc. of Georgia, Xcel Energy Inc. of Minnesota, and the federal Tennessee Valley Authority.

    The Obama administration, representing the TVA, urged a middle course that would have avoided a full-blown hearing at the high court.

    The administration angered environmental groups with its position that the states should not be allowed to proceed in federal court because, among other reasons, EPA already has begun to take actions to compel cuts in carbon dioxide emissions.

    EPA regulation is a more efficient process than a federal lawsuit, the administration said.

    What’s wrong with EPA regulation plus federal lawsuits?

    Why aren’t we suing ExxonMobil for climate damages?

    Will the Supreme Court rule in our favor?

    Considering that greenhouse heating from fossil fuel use can be a hundred thousand times greater than useful heat of combustion, how could the court rule other than against the coal fired power plants? The side effects are thousands of times greater than any possible benefit, even within our lifetimes.

    Is there ANY justice in this world?

  9. Oregon_Stream says:

    So if we’re going to assume coal is a “dead man walking”, doesn’t that reduce any remaining impetus for a serious carbon pricing agreement? Yes, vehicle emissions (particularly those originating from tar sand fuels) are still a growing threat, but coal has been the big rallying cry of the decarbonization movement. So I wonder if this talk could potentially feed into the spin that the markets are already positioned to take care of everything, and we can pretty much coast. Of course, the possible flaws that might be left out of such an argument are that an economic resurgence (American or otherwise) could renew demand at a time when coal prices are already relatively high, spurring more exploration and exportation.

  10. Michael T. says:

    A great post today on Skeptical Science:

    A retrospective of the Climategate retrospectives
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/A-retrospective-of-the-Climategate-retrospectives.html

  11. Joan Savage says:

    The complacent idea of switching from coal to gas gives me the chills.
    I understand that there is less atmospheric CO2 from methane than from coal combustion. Yet, shale gas extraction is a dirty operation that takes millions of gallons of precious fresh water per well, and comes back with production brine (hyper-saline water), unsuitable to discharge to surface water.

    Drought refugees fleeing from Arizona and California in, say, 2017 are going to need fresh water. This is not a good time to squander water resources for gas. As we say in New York, don’t frack with our water.

  12. catman306 says:

    Prokaryotes,
    Some one posted to CP that it is UBS that is still funding and backing coal power plants.

    Don’t we wish that they would stop!

  13. DaveE says:

    #11 Also, there is more methane in the atmosphere from gas (methane) than from coal. This wouldn’t be a problem if all the gas removed from the ground were burned, but evidently that’s not the case and since methane is so much more potent than co2 as a greenhouse gas, this could be a serious problem. I would still choose gas over coal (at least there’s presumably no mercury and we’re not leveling mountains for it) but I would rather choose renewables.

  14. Solar Jim says:

    There is no such thing as a future of cheap mined methane. It is a gamed and centralized system that sells the concept of “cheap” the same way cheap nuclear, oil or coal has been sold. In coming years if the Clean Water Act exemptions for gas drilling are rescinded and we find the same type of exhaustion to conventional reserves as oil in the US (peaked around 1970) then this material commodity will come from imported liquified natural gas marine tankers and coal gasification. Then the price could double or triple.

    By the way, during its first year in air methane is one hundred times worse than carbonic acid gas (CO2) for global warming/heating/meltdown.

    Nonetheless, the above bank statement on coal is strong and solar prospects are always improving to the point where no further investment in fossil burning should occur at all. We do need improvements, however, to the concept of economics and who controls finance in society. Maybe large rural electric cooperatives could change their economics to actually help their individual customers substantially reduce their grid loads. “Institutional Decoupling” if you will.

  15. espiritwater says:

    Leland Palmer (#8) writes, “High court will review climate change lawsuit.” The Obama administration, representing TVA, urged a middle course… avoid a full blown hearing.”

    Of course! Obama always takes the middle road. That’s why everyone hates him. Should have voted for Clinton!

  16. Prokaryotes says:

    DaveE said “I would still choose gas over coal (at least there’s presumably no mercury and we’re not leveling mountains for it) but I would rather choose renewables.”

    Maybe worse than bad …

    Uranium in Groundwater? ‘Fracking’ Mobilizes Uranium in Marcellus Shale

    Scientific and political disputes over drilling Marcellus shale for natural gas have focused primarily on the environmental effects of pumping millions of gallons of water and chemicals deep underground to blast through rocks to release the natural gas.

    But University at Buffalo researchers have now found that that process — called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”– also causes uranium that is naturally trapped inside Marcellus shale to be released, raising additional environmental concerns. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101025172926.htm

    And fracking for methane (natural gas) is often a source for earthquakes, let alone the contamination of the groundwater with secret chemicals, many cancer causing agents, a survival threatening long term threat.

    Fossil Energy extraction and usage should be considered a crime! Act now! Stop releasing the poison which destroys civilization and the human species! Put oil firm chiefs on trial for crimes against humanity!

  17. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Trying to get a fell for the peak coal scenario. The most pessimistic view is the Patzek and Croft analysis with peak coal in 2011. While many criticise, there do not seem to be many other realistic actual analysis-es. (My statistical skills do not allow me to rate their work, but it looks OK to me).

    What is obvious is China’s rapaceous demand, tying up contracts wherever they can.

    From a climate perspective it does not matter where the coal is burned. Use it in power stations in the US or export it to China, it still ends up in the atmosphere.

    We need coal to stay in the ground.

  18. Prokaryotes says:

    Hexavalent Chromium found in 31 American cities’ water

    Ten years later, separating Hollywood from reality, there is growing concern that the chemical – thought to be carcinogenic – is now polluting the drinking water supplies of 31 cities throughout America, possibly more.

    A recent study of the area and its residents returned no significant changes in cancer levels during the period between 1998 and 2008. Despite pledging to clean up the contamination, 14 years on PG&E are still having trouble containing the chemical.
    PG&E has been giving affected residents bottled water and has sent letters to about 100 property owners expressing interest in buying their property. The company has said it will continue those efforts despite the recent cancer study.
    The 2009 documentary by Kevin McMahon covers a similar threat to the Great Lakes of North America, where chemical pollution has caused dwindling fish stocks and feminisation of frogs and human populations in the surrounding areas.
    Clean, pure water is at a premium these days, and with many drinking supplies tainted with fluoride, uranium and aluminium, the risk of cancer is growing ever larger. http://www.celebrities-with-diseases.com/health-news/hexavalent-chromium-found-in-31-american-cities-water-11673.html

    Now think of all the nasty stuff from flooding which contaminates the drinking water of millions. Affected will be killed long after the water recedes,just like flood mold does. Especially in areas with certain industries or lack of regulations.

  19. espiritwater says:

    I don’t really hate him; I just hate what’s done (or not done!)

  20. Mike says:

    This article from Der Spiegel takes a rather critical look at carbon trading in Europe. It seems to have a pro-corporate bias. There are no interviews from the environmentalists side. Still it was interesting even if one-sided. Any plan to deal with a problem this big is bound to have pitfalls so it is good to know where they are. It is also useful to know what tactics will be used be those who want to avoid dealing with AGW.

    The Pitfalls of Europe’s New Emissions Trading System

    By Alexander Jung

    The next stage in the world’s CO2 emissions-trading scheme will begin in two years. Everyone agrees that the rulebook is complicated and that the costs for industry will be enormous. But nobody knows if the system will really help the environment — or merely create a burdensome bureaucracy.

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/0,1518,druck-736798,00.html

  21. Mike says:

    Read how an ecologist saved the Puffins from climate change – for now.

    A Path for Puffins

    By Heidi Landecker
    North Berwick and Aberdeen, Scotland

    One spring day in 2003, René van der Wal was approaching Fidra, an island off Scotland’s southeast coast, on a mission to collect nematodes for a graduate student, when he “saw these funny plants standing there, and I thought, Wow! That’s peculiar.” Then, through the mist, on Craigleith, an island a mile away, he saw more funny plants­—a forest of them.

    http://chronicle.com/article/A-Path-for-Puffins/125578/

  22. fj3 says:

    Net-zero travel uses vehicles small & light & easily moved by human power http://bit.ly/i10Auk http://bit.ly/bvCDLd

  23. fj3 says:

    @joestiglitz A large-scale public-investment program would stimulate employment and growth and a lower national debt http://bit.ly/eqqz28

  24. fj3 says:

    Open source design and development of net-zero human mobility on the scale of Linux and Wikipedia will start to heal civilization.

  25. Mike says:

    Denver Post

    Website maps out building-by-building solar potential

    By The Daily Camera
    Posted: 01/03/2011 01:00:00 AM MST

    A new online tool can tell how sunny the Denver region is — rooftop by rooftop.

    The Denver Regional Solar Map enables anyone to plug in an address and find out the estimated solar potential of that building.

    The map — created by the the Denver Regional Council of Governments — can be found at solarmap.drcog.org.

    http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_16994826

  26. Prokaryotes says:

    Climate change: Next security threat

    Congress is known for producing lots of “hot air.” If some senators and representatives have their way during the new Congress, “hot air” could literally be the result of their work.

    Certain senators and the new Republican-controlled House are attacking the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to limit carbon pollution. This is likely to have devastating consequences for our environment and our national security.

    Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0111/46953.html

  27. Prokaryotes says:

    Good News!

    Australian Floods Could Increase Coal Prices

    “Floods not seen in the modern era have shuttered coal mines throughout an area of Queensland, Australia, the size of Texas. Several large international miners, including Rio Tinto (NYSE: RTP), will take huge losses. That is only part of the trouble. The interruption may go on for months, which will almost certainly make the price of coal rise,” according to an article from 24/7 Wall St.

    To date, at least six coal mine operators have declared force majeure clauses due to shipment disruptions caused by the torrential flooding in Australia. This includes Anglo America Plc, Aquila Resources Inc, BHP Billiton Ltd., Macarthur Coal Ltd., Rio Tinto Group, Vale SA and Xstrata Plc.

    Colin Hamilton, Commodities Analyst at Macquarie, estimated that mines with an annual coking coal capacity of more than 100 million tons – about 40 percent of all supply to global markets – were either under force majeure or would be imminently.”

    http://www.steelmarketupdate.com/pub/blog/posts/2011/1/3/australian-floods-could-increase-coal-prices/

  28. Prokaryotes says:

    Cold storm brings Vegas snow, closes I-5 in Calif.

    “You don’t come to Las Vegas and think, ‘Hey, it’s going to snow,'” said Josh Hansen, 22, of Los Angeles, who was posing with friends amid flurries next to the iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign. “It’s really weird.” http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jIyC7R6mG8BlV1t5P4c75rsMBAJg?docId=5334192dcdce4d56b4791e5e73eaf831

  29. Frank Zaski says:

    More reporting needs to be done on the “total cost” of each solar and other RE technology. For example, Hemlock Semiconductor, a very large maker of polycrystalline silicon (solar cells to save us from global warming) is the largest user of coal generated electricity in Michigan. I read it takes up to 4 years for a polycrystalline cell to offset the electricity that went into making it.
    Hemlock uses a very energy intensive process to manufacture polycrystalline silicon from trichlorosilane. Articles indicate that a fluidized bed process uses 90% less electricity to make silicon than Hemlock’s current process.

  30. @Ziyu #7

    Thanks for clarifying – I was thinking the same thing. Anyone have any sense of how scalable this technology would be to mass production?

    A low-cost, 50+% efficient solar cell would be an amazingly powerful market force!

  31. Lorne Marr says:

    “Banks won’t finance them. Insurance companies won’t insure them. The EPA is coming after them…”

    This is a very good signal for other types of plants. If the experts in financial institutions already distrust this industry, or maybe have been gradually coming to this conclusion for the past two years, it means that coal plants are really screwed. But gas won’t be cheaper forever, that’s another issue. I wonder how much are the coal burning companies shareholders tied to the new gas burning ones, this would be a nice topic to research further…