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Carbon Capture Or Not, Coal Goes Under Energy Storage Bus

Energy Secretary Rick Perry won’t pick sides, but it sure looks like he’s banking on anything but coal to power the green grid of the future.

The battle between renewable energy and fossil fuel is already at a boiling point, but that’s nothing compared to the steaming hot mosh pit of internecine warfare going on between coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy. In the latest development on that score, US Energy Secretary Rick Perry went on a bomb-throwing mission at the EarthX 2019 conference in Dallas, Texas last week.

Wait — What Is EarthX?

If you’ve never heard of EarthX before, join the club. Here’s the pitch:

We are an international, nonprofit environmental forum whose purpose is to educate and inspire people to action towards a more sustainable future.  We assemble and connect citizens, educators, students, businesses, nonprofits, and global leaders to explore sustainable solutions for today’s most pressing challenges.

As for where they are coming from, the person behind EarthX is Trammell S. Crow, founder of Earth Day in Texas. EarthX lists Tetrapak, Oncor, and Santander as main sponsors.

Occidental Petroleum also weighs in along with Green Spring Technologies (think hemp, not electricity) and other local Dallas companies.

A Quick Digression Over To Occidental

Wait — Occidental?! Didn’t huge fan of wind power and mega mogul Warren Buffett just lay down a cool $10 billion to juice Occidental’s takeover of Andarko — even though Chevron already has dibs?

Oh yes he did! If anybody can guess what that is all about, drop us a note in the comment thread. Buffett is asking for a good slice of the shareholder pie, which could mean that Occidental-Andarko will finally join the ranks of legacy oil and gas companies diversifying into renewables.

On the other hand, nah. We’re thinking natural gas power plants and petrochemicals, which should give ExxonMobil the willies, but that’s just a wild guess.

Where Were We? Oh Right — Coal, Meet Bus

With all this in mind, let’s take a look at what Secretary Perry said at EarthX. In a speech on April 25, he basically made the case that the US energy strategy for decarbonization should be this:

Now the first step is to take energy that is free of emissions…and generate more of it.

Okay, so that excludes coal and includes renewables, except for that intermittent thing (don’t tell Perry about wind and solar complementarity because he doesn’t think that’s a thing yet).

In Perryworld, though, what it really means is that relying only on wind and solar put everyone in danger of power outages (unlike fossil fuels lololo whatever).

What Perry is really getting at is this:

I believe we can avert this danger by adding to renewables at least one other energy source that not only is emissions free…but maintains rock-solid… 24/7 reliability.

That source is nuclear energy.

Ya don’t say! Where does that leave coal?

Well, not in a very good place. Perry makes the case for continuing to innovate on coal emissions including carbon capture, but in the meantime he’s looking for that bus to round the corner, and here it comes:

…And just as we invest in CCUS to make coal as clean as renewables… so should we continue to fund breakthroughs in energy storage that could one day make renewables as reliable as coal and nuclear!


Coal, Meet The Energy Storage Bus

Say, you don’t think Perry was referring to long duration energy storage, do you?

Well, maybe! The Energy Department has been pouring a lot of research dollars into energy storage, with a focus on bulk energy storage that can crank out the kilowatts for up to 100 hours.

Just last year they got a nice boost from Royal Dutch Shell (yes, Shell), which is underwriting a new innovation accelerator called GCxN, which is being shepherded by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Long duration energy storage was one of the accelerator’s very first two challenge themes when it launched last September.

Nothing Can Save Coal Now

Anyways, if you read the whole speech you’ll see Perry doing his finely tuned routine of giving everyone in the energy sector a pat on the head for a job well done.

Meanwhile, the renewable energy revolution is surging forward with a considerable amount of help from Perry and his agency.

In the latest development on that score, some of the nation’s top coal producing states are beginning to welcome renewable energy development with open arms.

Texas was way ahead of that game as an early wind adopter. Indiana is beginning to climb on board the renewable energy train, despite the best efforts of newly minted coal lobbyist Scott Pruitt.

Even Pennsylvania — you know, one of those Appalachian states that powered President* Trump’s successful appeal to coal miners — is shaking off the dust of the past.

For that matter, take a look at the Appalachian state of West Virginia, where the solar industry is promoting former coal mine sites for PV development.

Speaking Of Coal States…

In an interesting coincidence, earlier this week Energy Department Deputy Secretary Dan Brouillette met with West Virginia Governor Jim Justice to talk about “energy issues impacting the state.”

The official readout from the Energy Department mentions petrochemicals (right back at you, Warren Buffett), with coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy all in play.

However, take a look at the local journalism for a deeper dive (go ahead, follow the link!). West Virginia’s Metro News cites state Senator Ryan Weld, who sat in on the meeting:

“While I absolutely see the end towards those renewables because we don’t want to cause irreparable harm, right now I don’t think we are there technology-wise,” he said. “If nuclear power, if coal, plays a part in that than West Virginia on the coal side is ready to stand up and do its part.”

Notsofast on that coal thing. Weld (R-Brooke) is also Majority Whip and Chair of Natural Gas Development Committee, and he had plenty to say about natural gas opportunities in coal country.

Yikes! Grab a mop, cleanup on Aisle 4!

Meanwhile, CleanTechnica is reaching out to EarthX for some insights on Occidental’s contributions to the planet saving cause, so stay tuned for more on that.

Follow me on Twitter.

*Developing story.

Photo: Petra Nova carbon storage project via US Department of Energy.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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