Coal power is not base-load electricity by itself. To enable coal to reliably deliver electric power, it took the creation of an entire other national infrastructure; the trans-continental railroad system.
Without the unceasing rail-car-load delivery, every 12 hours, on the hour, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, year after year, of every next 12-hour-supply of fuel for the fire; the fire would go out, the water wouldn’t boil, the steam wouldn’t rise, the turbine wouldn’t turn; the next 12 hours of electricity wouldn’t be made. The fire must never go out.
Coal plus railroad = base-load power.
Even today, a century later, every 12 hours in this nation a trainload of coal from Wyoming or Pennsylvania or Ohio, must arrive at an electric power station near your city, to make your coal power for the next 12 hours. No trainload of coal; no coal power. What does that have to do with wind storage?
Wind plus storage = base-load power.
Making coal into base-load power made a lot of money for the railroad industry in the 19th century. In 1884, when Charles Dow came up with the first stock index designed to track the performance of the largest companies under public ownership, 9 out of the 11 firms in Dow’s first index were railroads. Railroad-delivered coal electricity began in NYC with Edison’s Pearl Street Station in 1882.
Making wind into base-load power will create a similar boom. Too much wind blows at night and far away. Excess wind needs to be stored for daytime use and transmitted from the lonely windy states to cities in order to make wind the 21st century base-load power that coal was from the 19th century.
What the trans-continental railroad was to coal powered electricity in the 19th century, storage will be to wind powered electricity in the 21st century.
Because of the railroad; coal deliveries grew in just 70 years from 8 million tons beginning in 1850 while the civil war raged to 680 million tons by 1918.
When the railroad had problems, the power went out. Unreliable coal deliveries impacted heat and power supplies through the early part of the 1900′s shutting down industrial plants and schools. Even during the Bush administration coal power was still shut down by railroad delivery problems.
That absolutely crucial infrastructure; the railroad industry, has been worth trillions to the coal industry. Generations invested in and grew rich from making coal into base-load power.
Trillions will be made in energy storage making wind and solar into base-load power. New techniques for storage will build the industries that will be the investment booms of tomorrow.
Images: the author and scripophily
Susan Kraemer writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today, PV-Insider , SmartGridUpdate and GreenProphet and has been published at Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design she brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention: solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times. Follow Susan @dotcommodity on twitter.