When looking at the coal-burning plant above, air pollution is likely one of the first ideas that may come to mind. This particular plant is a subdivision of American Electric Power—the United States’ largest generator of electricity. Plants similar to these across the globe contribute to approximately 39% of worldwide energy production; this figure edges closer to an astounding 50% in the US.
Accompanying this concept comes the blatant image that every one of those coal-burning plants around the world is releasing an immense amount of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur, nitrous oxides, and much more particulate matter uncontrollably into the atmosphere.
The ramifications of coal-burning plants range from damage done to crop and timber yields, building materials, its toll on human health, and the landscapes over which the non-renewable resource is extracted. This impacts the American economy by inducing a steep $62 billion annual toll environmentally and in the sector of human health.
It is well understood that the importance of these plants in producing useable energy for human populations has been a major cause of its use as a major fossil fuel. Coal is unsurprisingly also the most abundant non-renewable resource on Earth extracted for energy production. The world’s economies are still becoming more and more keen on kicking the fossil fuel habit in response to its dirty and harmful influences on the environment and ourselves.
In light of overpowering this method of energy production, the US has made positive steps in alternating to less hazardous energies. A turning-point trend notable in the US is that no new coal-burning plants have been manufactured in the last 2 years. Upon the 20 plants that arose across the nation between 2000 and 2008, plans for 38 upcoming plants had been scrapped in 2009. The US instead has their eye on natural gas as the ‘coal replacement’ as of recent years, with additional plans to improve the efficiency of current large scale power plants. A market that lacks interest in coal burning plants seems to positively reinforce the idea of solutions for a greener world, which is what I think must happen in order for other energies such as solar and wind power to hopefully also become prevalent in the near future.
Natural gas is a relatively inexpensive source of energy that contributes half the amount of greenhouse gases compared to coal, thus is being heavily promoted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) towards utilities and manufacturing companies. Greenhouse gas emissions have also been predicted to reduce by 44% as of 2005 until 2030 if energy production plants are centered around natural gas, as opposed to coal.
Ultimately, coal is losing its foothold in global energy production as a result of investors turning away from it to support cheaper natural gas methods and to develop enhanced renewable clean energies based on readily available wind, solar, and hydrologic forms. Trends such as these are a hopeful sign that these renewable sources may also be harnessed and manipulated to one day provide the effectiveness that coal does today for the human economy.