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Coal Dead? Peak Oil Demand? Five Takes on Fossil Fuels’ Future

  • Energy executives debate role of old fuels in new world order
  • Coal plants play chicken, while nuclear power may rise again
Fighting Climate Change, Without the U.S.

For all the buzz around wind, solar and electric cars, energy company executives had plenty to say Tuesday about the continuing role of fossil fuels and nuclear power at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Future of Energy Summit.

Mining mogul Bob Murray offered a passionate defense of coal, asserting that we’d all “die in the dark” without it. Ethan Zindler, a Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst, supplied the counter argument, saying U.S. coal-plant economics simply don’t work anymore.
Here’s what executives from BP Plc to Tellurian Inc. said about the future of fossil fuels in a world pushing to fight climate change.

BP: Oil Post-Paris

BP Chief Financial Officer Brian Gilvary sees oil and gas playing key roles — even as most nations strive to cut greenhouse gases that cause global warming. “A lot of people think that what was agreed to in Paris was all about a race to renewables,” Gilvary said. “Actually it was a race to reduce emissions.” Therefore lots of different types of energy will fit into the mix, Gilvary said. Oil demand will remain strong to around 2040 and plateau rather than peak, Gilvary said. “We will continue to pursue world projects. But we will do that in a way to make sure we start to reduce emissions in our own business.”

BNEF: Playing Coal-Plant Chicken

Zindler, BNEF’s head of Americas, said about half of all U.S. coal plants lose money on any given day as cheap gas, along with wind and solar farms, push electricity prices lower. Meanwhile, demand for power is flat. The result, Zindler said, is coal plants wrestle to outlast one another, fighting for a bigger piece of the pie. “Every day across multiple regional transmission operating systems, we see power plants staring across at each other and saying ‘Who is going to go first?’ ” Zindler said. “It’s only a matter of time as these plants try to outlast each other.”

Murray: Coal Is Here to Stay

While Murray Energy Corp. Chief Executive Officer Bob Murray expects U.S. thermal coal production to keep falling in coming years, he’s optimistic it will stabilize around 650 million tons a year (down from more than 1 billion tons a decade ago). But that depends on America’s utilities supporting coal, Murray said. “You must have a reliable, resilient power grid, and there’s only two types of base-load generation — nuclear and coal,” he said. Even without support from utilities, Murray has another plan. He wants to buy and operate coal-fired power plants. “If you can dig coal out of the ground, you sure as heck can run a power plant,” he said in an interview. “We can run power plants better than the utilities can.”

Tellurian: Natural Gas in China

The boom in gas over the last decade has transformed the power sector, and Tellurian Chief Executive Officer Meg Gentle sees demand rising even higher. To understand why, look no further than China. Gentle estimates the country will add 12 gigawatts of gas-fired power plants this year. In Beijing, more than 5 million homes switched from burning coal to gas last year. And every month, Chinese automakers churn out about 8,000 vehicles fueled by natural gas instead of gasoline. “Across all of the sectors in China, the demand for gas is very robust as the country starts to be committed to blue skies and clean air,” Gentle said.

DOE: Nukes Will Rise Again

Nuclear power may be on the ropes, as reactors struggle to compete with gas plants. But the technology will rise again with smaller, cheaper and more agile reactors, said Edward McGinnis, principal deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. Energy Department’s Office of Nuclear Energy. The U.S. nuclear fleet “has had a remarkable ride but as with all rides, a ride will come to an end,” McGinnis said in a presentation. The U.S. is at the forefront of designing and developing a new type of small, modular reactors. In about 8 to 10 years “we will be witnessing a very disruptive, exciting time in the nuclear sector,” he said.

— With assistance by Naureen S Malik, Tim Loh, Jim Efstathiou Jr, and Jim Polson


4 Comments on "Coal Dead? Peak Oil Demand? Five Takes on Fossil Fuels’ Future"

  1. Kenz300 on Wed, 11th Apr 2018 10:59 am 

    Nuclear energy is too costly and too dangerous.
    Look at Fukishima and Chernobyl to see the long term costs.

    Fossil fuels are the past.

    Wind and solar are safer, cleaner and cheaper ways to generate electricity.

    Cheaper always WINS !

  2. rockman on Wed, 11th Apr 2018 12:46 pm 

    Coal dead? Let’s run down the facts. Fact 1: global coal consumption has declined by a small % since it peaked in 2015. Fact 2: current global coal consumption is greater then at any other time in history prior to 2011. Fact 3: in the last 16 years global coal consumption has increased more than 33%. Fact 4: anyone can predict any global coal consumption INCREASE OR DECREASE they care to since there’s no way to prove such predictions other then to wait and see what happens.

    Of course, as the global population increases and economies of countries such as China and India strive to grow to the level of more advanced economies their energy consumption will likely increase. And besides those developing nations we have the US which has (A) currently a very disproportionally high consumption of the world’s energy consumption and (B) some of the largest proven coal reserves on the planet.

    Again, everyone is free to predict the source(s) of that future energy consumption.

  3. deadly on Wed, 11th Apr 2018 1:21 pm 

    Dams and hydropower are about the most desirable and efficient.

    Everybody says nuclear is CO2 free, but it is not. Since there has to be people employed to run the nuclear power plant, fossil fuels will be used so the nuclear power plant can operate problem-free. Fossil fuels will be used to manage and house radioactive waste, people need to be employed to do the work of the management, CO2 goes into the atmosphere for thousands of years if we last that long.

    Fossil fuels must be used to produce nuclear power. That won’t stop.

    CO2-free nuclear power is the ideal, a pipedream, however, sometimes, nuclear power plants emit too much radiation. Three Mile Island and Chernobyl did that. Fukushima maybe not so much. Drove everybody out of there as did the nasty tsunami, things aren’t like they once were at Fukushima.

    Feral pigs inhabit the area in and around the Fukushima disaster area. They found themselves a home.

    They are the top of the food chain when no humans are around. It is literally pigs gone wild where there were at one time humans.

    Fukushima Pigs

    All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal.

    If you are a radioactive pig near the Fukushima disaster, you own the countryside and the towns for far and wide. There are no equals.

    Humans are not welcome. So what do the humans do? They begin to hunt down the radioactive wild pigs. Radioactive waste in the flesh, more disaster management. It will just never end.

    Nuclear to generate electricity still is safer than people want to believe.

    Coal is a much easier dense energy to control, not too difficult to see that.

    As long as there is enough oil, all things considered, everything will remain just fine, except for maybe some civil unrest, humanity can continue as such, barring any unforeseen disease or a war of all against all, it is all under control.

    Yeah, right. What kind of fool says such stupid idiotic rambling babble?

    Go figure.

    There are no humans at the Bikini Atoll. Too much nuclear waste there. However, the coral is going gangbusters and the marine life is back.

    Bikini Atoll Alive and Well

    Humans can crow all they want about released CO2 doing harm, sea levels rising, glaciers melting, but they are no match for the forces of nature. Mother Nature always wins and you always lose. You have zero chance of surviving indefinitely unless there is life after death, there is, but not yours.

    To hell with energy, coal, nuclear, oil, all of the nonsense of how much, you’re main objective is to remain alive and to go on out and do the best you can.


  4. dave thompson on Thu, 12th Apr 2018 7:30 am 

    With wind and solar electric generation at about 1.2% world wide FF electric generation aint going away.

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