AMP-lify Your Digital Marketing in 2018

Posted by EricEnge

Should you AMP-lify your site in 2018?

This is a question on the mind of many publishers. To help answer it, this post is going to dive into case studies and examples showing results different companies had with AMP.

If you’re not familiar with Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), it’s an open-source project aimed at allowing mobile website content to render nearly instantly. This initiative that has Google as a sponsor, but it is not a program owned by Google, and it’s also supported by Bing, Baidu, Twitter, Pinterest, and many other parties.


Some initial background

Since its inception in 2015, AMP has come a long way. When it first hit the scene, AMP was laser-focused on media sites. The reason those types of publishers wanted to participate in AMP was clear: It would make their mobile sites much faster, AND Google was offering a great deal of incremental exposure in Google Search through the “Top Stories news carousel.”

Basically, you can only get in the Top Stories carousel on a mobile device if your page is implemented in AMP, and that made AMP a big deal for news sites. But if you’re not a news site, what’s in it for you? Simple: providing a better user experience online can lead to more positive website metrics and revenue.

We know that fast-loading websites are better for the user. But what you may not be aware of is how speed can impact the bottom line. Google-sponsored research shows that AMP leads to an average of a 2X increase in time spent on page (details can be seen here). The data also shows e-commerce sites experience an average 20 percent increase in sales conversions compared to non-AMP web pages.

Stepping outside the world of AMP for a moment, data from Amazon, Walmart, and Yahoo show a compelling impact of page load time on metrics like traffic, conversion and sales:

You can see that for Amazon, a mere one-tenth of a second increase in page load time (so one-tenth of a second slower) would drive a $1.3 billion drop in sales. So, page speed can have a direct impact on revenue. That should count for something.

What do users say about AMP? 9to5Google.com recently conducted a poll where they asked users: “Are you more inclined to click on an AMP link than a regular one?” The majority of people (51.14 percent) said yes to that question. Here are the detailed results:

This poll suggests that even for non-news sites, there is a very compelling reason to do AMP for SEO. Not because it increases your rankings, per se, but because you may get more click-throughs (more traffic) from the organic search results. Getting more traffic from organic search, after all, is the goal of SEO. In addition, you’re likely to get more time on site and more conversions.


How the actual implementation of AMP impacts your results

Before adopting any new technology, you need understand what you’re getting into.

At Stone Temple Consulting, we performed a research study that included 10 different types of websites that adopted AMP to see what results they had and what challenges they ran into. (Go here to see more details from the study.)

Let’s get right to the results. One site, Thrillist, converted 90 percent of their web pages over a four-week period of time. They saw a 70 percent lift in organic search traffic to their site — 50 percent of that growth came from AMP.

One anonymous participant in the study, another large media publisher, converted 95 percent of their web pages to AMP, and once again the development effort as approximately four weeks long. They saw a 67 percent lift in organic search traffic on one of their sites, and a 30% lift on another site.

So, media sites do well, but we knew that would be the case. What about e-commerce sites? Consider the case of Myntra, a company that is the largest fashion retailer in India. Their implementation took about 11 days of effort.

This implementation covered all of their main landing pages from Google, covering between 85% and 90% of their organic search traffic. For their remaining pages (such as the individual product pages) they implemented a Progressive Web App, which helps those pages perform better as well. They saw a 40% reduction in bounce rate on their pages, as well as a lift in their overall e-commerce results. You can see detailed results here.

Then there is the case of Event Tickets Center. They implemented 99.9% of their pages in AMP, and opted to create an AMP-immersive experience. Page load times on their site dropped from five to six seconds to one second.

They saw improvements in user engagement metrics, with a drop in bounce rate of 10%, an increase in pages per session of 6%, and session duration of 13%. But, the stunning stat is that they report a whopping 100% increase in e-commerce conversions. You can see the full case study here.

But it’s not always the case that AMP adopters will see a huge lift in results. When that’s not the case, there’s likely one culprit: not taking the time to implement AMP thoroughly. A big key to AMP is not to simply use a plugin, set it, and forget it.

To get good results, you’ll need to invest the time to make the AMP version of your pages substantially similar (if not identical) to your normal responsive mobile pages, and with today’s AMP, for the majority of publishers, that is absolutely possible to do. In addition to this being critical to the performance of AMP pages, on November 16, 2017, Google announced that they will exclude pages from the AMP carousel if the content on your AMP page is not substantially similar to that of your mobile responsive page.

This typically means creating brand-new templates for the major landing pages of your site, or if you are using a plugin, using their custom styling options (most of them allow this). If you’re going to take on AMP, it’s imperative that you take the time to get this right.

From our research, you can see in the slide below the results from the 10 sites that adopted AMP. Eight of those sites are colored in green, and those are the sites that saw strong results from their AMP implementation.

Then there are two listed in yellow. Those are the sites that have not yet seen good results. In both of those cases, there were implementation problems. One of the sites (the Lead Gen site above) launched pages with a broken hamburger menu, and a UI that was not up to par with the responsive mobile pages, and their metrics are weak.

We’ve been working with them to fix that and their metrics are steadily improving. The first round of fixes brought the user engagement metrics much closer to that of the mobile responsive pages, but there is still more work to do.

The other site (the retail site in yellow above) launched AMP pages without their normal faceted navigation, and also without a main menu, saw really bad results, and pulled it back down. They’re working on a better AMP implementation now, and hope to relaunch soon.

So, when you think about implementing AMP, you have to go all the way with it and invest the time to do a complete job. That will make it harder, for sure, but that’s OK — you’ll be far better off in the end.


How we did it at Stone Temple (and what we found)

Here at Stone Temple Consulting, we experimented with AMP ourselves, using an AMP plugin versus a hand-coded AMP web page. I’ll share the results of that next.

Experiment No. 1: WordPress AMP plugin

Our site is on WordPress, and there are plugins that make the task of doing AMP easier if you have a WordPress site — however, that doesn’t mean install the plugin, turn it on, and you’re done.

Below you can see a comparison of the standard StoneTemple.com mobile page on the left contrasted with the default StoneTemple.com page that comes out of the AMP plugin that we used on the site called AMP by Automatic.

You’ll see that the look and feel is dramatically different between the two, but to be fair to the plugin, we did what I just said you shouldn’t do. We turned it on, did no customization, and thought we were done.

As a result, there’s no hamburger menu. The logo is gone. It turns out that by default, the link at the top (“Stone Temple”) goes to StoneTemple.com/amp, but there’s no page for that, so it returns a 404 error, and the list of problems goes on. As noted, we had not used the customization options available in the plugin, which can be used to rectify most (if not all) of these problems, and the pages can be customized to look a lot better. As part of an ongoing project, we’re working on that.

It’s a lot faster, yes… but is it a better user experience? Looking at the data, we can see the impact of this broken implementation of AMP. The metrics are not good.

Looking at the middle line highlighted in orange, you’ll see the standard mobile page metrics. On the top line, you’ll see the AMP page metrics — and they’re all worse: higher bounce rate, fewer pages per session, and lower average session time.

Looking back to the image of the two web pages, you can see why. We were offering an inferior user interface because we weren’t giving the user any opportunities to interact. Therefore, we got predictable results.

Experiment No. 2: Hand-coded AMP web page

One of the common myths about AMP is that an AMP page needs to be a stripped-down version of your site to succeed. To explore whether or not that was true, we took the time at Stone Temple Consulting to hand-code a version of one of our article pages for AMP. Here is a look at how that came out:

As you can see from the screenshots above, we created a version of the page that looked nearly identical to the original. We also added a bit of extra functionality with a toggle sidebar feature. With that, we felt we made something that had even better usability than the original page.

The result of these changes? The engagement metrics for the AMP pages on StoneTemple.com went up dramatically. For the record, here are our metrics including the handcrafted AMP pages:

As you can see, the metrics have improved dramatically. We still have more that we can do with the handcrafted page as well, and we believe we can get these metrics to be better than that of the standard mobile responsive page. At this point in time, total effort on the handcrafted page template was about 40 hours.

Note: We do believe that we can get engagement on the AMP by Automatic plugin version to go way up, too. One of the reasons we did the hand-coded version was to get hands-on experience with AMP coding. We’re working on a better custom implementation of the AMP by Automatic pages in parallel.


Bonus challenge: AMP analytics

Aside from the actual implementation of AMP, there is a second major issue to be concerned about if you want to be successful: the tracking. The default tracking in Google Analytics for AMP pages is broken, and you’ll need to patch it.

Just to explain what the issue is, let’s look at the following illustration:

The way AMP works (and one of the things that helps with speeding up your web pages) is that your content is served out of a cache on Google. When a user clicks on the AMP link in the search results, that page lives in Google’s cache (on Google.com). That’s the web page that gets sent to the user.

The problem occurs when a user is viewing your web page on Google’s cache, and then clicks on a link within that page (say, to the home page of your site). This action means they leave the Google.com page and get the next page delivered from your server (in the example above, I’m using the StoneTemple.com server.)

From a web analytics point of view, those are two different websites. The analytics for StoneTemple.com is going to view that person who clicked on the AMP page in the Google cache as a visitor from a third-party website, and not a visitor from search. In other words, the analytics for StoneTemple.com won’t record it as a continuation of the same session; it’ll be tracked as a new session.

You can (and should) set up analytics for your AMP pages (the ones running on Google.com), but those are normally going to run as a separate set of analytics. Nearly every action on your pages in the Google cache will result in the user leaving the Google cache, and that will be seen as leaving the site that the AMP analytics is tracking. The result is that in the analytics for your AMP pages running on Google.com:

  • Your pages per session will be about one
  • Bounce rate will be very high (greater than 90 percent)
  • Session times will be very short

Then, for the AMP analytics on your domain, your number of visitors will not reflect any of the people who arrive on an AMP page first, and will only include those who view a second page on the site (on your main domain). If you try fixing this by adding your AMP analytics visit count to your main site analytics count, you’ll be double counting people that click through from one to the other.

There is a fix for this, and it’s referred to as “session stitching.” This is a really important fix to implement, and Google has provided it by creating an API that allows you to share the client ID information from AMP analytics with your regular website analytics. As a result, the analytics can piece together that it’s a continuation of the same session.

For more, you can see how to implement the fix to remedy both basic and advanced metrics tracking in my article on session stitching here.


Wrapping up

AMP can offer some really powerful benefits — improved site speed, better user experience and more revenue — but only for those publishers that take the time to implement the AMP version of their AMP site thoroughly, and also address the tracking issue in analytics so they can see the true results.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

from Raymond Castleberry Blog http://raymondcastleberry.blogspot.com/2017/11/amp-lify-your-digital-marketing-in-2018.html
via http://raymondcastleberry.blogspot.com

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Four SEI instructors team up to form nonprofit Remote Energy

Solar Energy International (SEI) is excited to announce the formation of Remote Energy, a new 501(c)3 for-impact organization. Remote Energy was started by four SEI instructors: Carol Weis, Brad Burkhartzmeyer, Chris Brooks and Jason Lerner – with one of their board members being SEI’s former international director, Laurie Stone.

Recently SEI hired Remote Energy to teach and provide a customized, battery-based PV class for the Rural Renewable Alliance (RREAL) to train Liberian technicians as part of RREAL’s Skip the Grid program. Remote Energy used their extensive international experience and curriculum development skills to adapt SEI’s proven PV training curriculum to address the specific needs and market of the attendees. Remote Energy and SEI hope to continue this partnership to reach even more technician’s and trainers worldwide in 2018.

Mary Marshall, SEI’s Marketing and Communications Manager, speaks with Carol Weis about the formation of Remote Energy:

Mary: What is Remote Energy and why did you form it?

Carol: Remote Energy’s core goal is to provide customized solar electric technical and training expertise to technicians, organizations, businesses or agencies that implement international development projects. We specialize in train-the-trainer’s courses to build local capacity in country and aide technical schools to start their own solar training program within existing departments.

Our group saw a need for high-quality customized trainings for international and lower-income populations.   We like to partner with organizations looking to use renewable energy to address issues related to jobs, health, clean water, education, gender equality, and alleviating poverty.

The Remote Energy core team has worked together for years on individual projects – doing international trainings and curriculum development – but before we all were operating our own companies. It became clear that we had a shared common vision – so it made sense to join efforts. We knew that we could take on more projects and reach a larger audience by starting an organization together.

Mary: Who is involved in Remote Energy and what parts of the world have they taught in?

Carol:  Our team together has conducted training activities and projects in more than 25 countries. We all have similar backgrounds as licensed electricians, solar installers, and working as solar trainers both nationally and internationally.

For me, I have traveled a lot to Haiti since 2009 teaching installers, training hospital technician’s in solar system maintenance, and building local capacity.  Most recently, Brad and I worked for the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) to help them develop a 40-week national training program for their new National Solar Training Center, run in partnership with Haiti Tec, a local technical college in Port-au-Prince.  Our curriculum is now taught in Creole by local trainers.  I have also taught in Africa and Asia.

Chris and Brad speak Spanish, and have conducted trainings in Central and South America as well as Africa and Asia. They have developed and implemented PV capacity building programs and water pumping projects in developing communities worldwide.   When they are not traveling, they work together for a solar installation company, Sun’s Eye Solar, in Tacoma, WA.

Jason is a licensed electrician an electrical contractor in WA, and has been installing off-grid systems in the San Juan Islands for 20 years. He started teaching for SEI in the Costa Rica and Guemes Island classes. It was really his initiative which pulled us all together to start working as a team.

It is exciting for me to have the opportunity to work with such a strong, qualified group that has a mission of bringing high-level education to countries with scarce economic resources. Our combined experiences position us to work on a variety of projects, from disaster relief efforts to creating top notch training centers.

Mary: How do you see your partnership with SEI developing?

Carol:  The Remote Energy team will continue our strong partnership with SEI by providing instructors for the Spanish and English PV programs.  We will also collaborate with SEI to bring technical PV training to populations that are generally underserved by capacity building programs, like the program we did with SEI and RREAL this past October.

Mary: What type of projects is Remote Energy excited about?

Carol: What I like doing the most is training trainers and helping those instructors set up solar programs within their existing communities and programs. There are technical colleges all over the world that could easily add solar to their existing electrical degree program to build up their local workforce -they don’t need to re-invent the wheel.  There is a tangible excitement in the classroom when teaching in emerging economies as they explore the impact solar technology and education can make. It is also extremely important that women are at these technical trainings as well – and thus I am looking forward to teaching more women-only classes internationally as well.

Our team also has the expertise and desire to partner with organizations to bring energy access to impoverished areas focusing on clean water, health and education. An example of this is doing PV training within the health sector by working with hospitals who are adding solar electric systems.  We have taught hands-on classes to designers and installers to assure that systems are built robust and to standards, as well as having taught specific trainings for on-site technicians who needed to maintain large inverter/battery systems to make sure systems last a long time. Good technicians are just as important as doctors in providing reliable health care – as they keep the lights and lab equipment energized. This type of training is crucial.

Our expertise can also aid in disaster relief efforts.  For example, this fall Chris Brooks is using his water pumping experience to help install solar inverter systems on existing AC water pumps to get clean water to Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria damaged electrical lines.  We would like to get more funding to do more of this type of work.

To find out more about Remote Energy and their projects, connect with Carol at carol@remoteenergy.org or visit Remote Energy’s website at remoteenergy.org.

The post Four SEI instructors team up to form nonprofit Remote Energy appeared first on Solar Training – Solar Installer Training – Solar PV Installation Training – Solar Energy Courses – Renewable Energy Education – NABCEP – Solar Energy International (SEI).

from Raymond Castleberry Blog http://raymondcastleberry.blogspot.com/2017/11/four-sei-instructors-team-up-to-form.html
via http://raymondcastleberry.blogspot.com

Four SEI instructors team up to form nonprofit Remote Energy

Solar Energy International (SEI) is excited to announce the formation of Remote Energy, a new 501(c)3 for-impact organization. Remote Energy was started by four SEI instructors: Carol Weis, Brad Burkhartzmeyer, Chris Brooks and Jason Lerner – with one of their board members being SEI’s former international director, Laurie Stone.

Recently SEI hired Remote Energy to teach and provide a customized, battery-based PV class for the Rural Renewable Alliance (RREAL) to train Liberian technicians as part of RREAL’s Skip the Grid program. Remote Energy used their extensive international experience and curriculum development skills to adapt SEI’s proven PV training curriculum to address the specific needs and market of the attendees. Remote Energy and SEI hope to continue this partnership to reach even more technician’s and trainers worldwide in 2018.

Mary Marshall, SEI’s Marketing and Communications Manager, speaks with Carol Weis about the formation of Remote Energy:

Mary: What is Remote Energy and why did you form it?

Carol: Remote Energy’s core goal is to provide customized solar electric technical and training expertise to technicians, organizations, businesses or agencies that implement international development projects. We specialize in train-the-trainer’s courses to build local capacity in country and aide technical schools to start their own solar training program within existing departments.

Our group saw a need for high-quality customized trainings for international and lower-income populations.   We like to partner with organizations looking to use renewable energy to address issues related to jobs, health, clean water, education, gender equality, and alleviating poverty.

The Remote Energy core team has worked together for years on individual projects – doing international trainings and curriculum development – but before we all were operating our own companies. It became clear that we had a shared common vision – so it made sense to join efforts. We knew that we could take on more projects and reach a larger audience by starting an organization together.

Mary: Who is involved in Remote Energy and what parts of the world have they taught in?

Carol:  Our team together has conducted training activities and projects in more than 25 countries. We all have similar backgrounds as licensed electricians, solar installers, and working as solar trainers both nationally and internationally.

For me, I have traveled a lot to Haiti since 2009 teaching installers, training hospital technician’s in solar system maintenance, and building local capacity.  Most recently, Brad and I worked for the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) to help them develop a 40-week national training program for their new National Solar Training Center, run in partnership with Haiti Tec, a local technical college in Port-au-Prince.  Our curriculum is now taught in Creole by local trainers.  I have also taught in Africa and Asia.

Chris and Brad speak Spanish, and have conducted trainings in Central and South America as well as Africa and Asia. They have developed and implemented PV capacity building programs and water pumping projects in developing communities worldwide.   When they are not traveling, they work together for a solar installation company, Sun’s Eye Solar, in Tacoma, WA.

Jason is a licensed electrician an electrical contractor in WA, and has been installing off-grid systems in the San Juan Islands for 20 years. He started teaching for SEI in the Costa Rica and Guemes Island classes. It was really his initiative which pulled us all together to start working as a team.

It is exciting for me to have the opportunity to work with such a strong, qualified group that has a mission of bringing high-level education to countries with scarce economic resources. Our combined experiences position us to work on a variety of projects, from disaster relief efforts to creating top notch training centers.

Mary: How do you see your partnership with SEI developing?

Carol:  The Remote Energy team will continue our strong partnership with SEI by providing instructors for the Spanish and English PV programs.  We will also collaborate with SEI to bring technical PV training to populations that are generally underserved by capacity building programs, like the program we did with SEI and RREAL this past October.

Mary: What type of projects is Remote Energy excited about?

Carol: What I like doing the most is training trainers and helping those instructors set up solar programs within their existing communities and programs. There are technical colleges all over the world that could easily add solar to their existing electrical degree program to build up their local workforce -they don’t need to re-invent the wheel.  There is a tangible excitement in the classroom when teaching in emerging economies as they explore the impact solar technology and education can make. It is also extremely important that women are at these technical trainings as well – and thus I am looking forward to teaching more women-only classes internationally as well.

Our team also has the expertise and desire to partner with organizations to bring energy access to impoverished areas focusing on clean water, health and education. An example of this is doing PV training within the health sector by working with hospitals who are adding solar electric systems.  We have taught hands-on classes to designers and installers to assure that systems are built robust and to standards, as well as having taught specific trainings for on-site technicians who needed to maintain large inverter/battery systems to make sure systems last a long time. Good technicians are just as important as doctors in providing reliable health care – as they keep the lights and lab equipment energized. This type of training is crucial.

Our expertise can also aid in disaster relief efforts.  For example, this fall Chris Brooks is using his water pumping experience to help install solar inverter systems on existing AC water pumps to get clean water to Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria damaged electrical lines.  We would like to get more funding to do more of this type of work.

To find out more about Remote Energy and their projects, connect with Carol at carol@remoteenergy.org or visit Remote Energy’s website at remoteenergy.org.

The post Four SEI instructors team up to form nonprofit Remote Energy appeared first on Solar Training – Solar Installer Training – Solar PV Installation Training – Solar Energy Courses – Renewable Energy Education – NABCEP – Solar Energy International (SEI).

Four SEI instructors team up to form nonprofit Remote Energy

Solar Energy International (SEI) is excited to announce the formation of Remote Energy, a new 501(c)3 for-impact organization. Remote Energy was started by four SEI instructors: Carol Weis, Brad Burkhartzmeyer, Chris Brooks and Jason Lerner – with one of their board members being SEI’s former international director, Laurie Stone.

Recently SEI hired Remote Energy to teach and provide a customized, battery-based PV class for the Rural Renewable Alliance (RREAL) to train Liberian technicians as part of RREAL’s Skip the Grid program. Remote Energy used their extensive international experience and curriculum development skills to adapt SEI’s proven PV training curriculum to address the specific needs and market of the attendees. Remote Energy and SEI hope to continue this partnership to reach even more technician’s and trainers worldwide in 2018.

Mary Marshall, SEI’s Marketing and Communications Manager, speaks with Carol Weis about the formation of Remote Energy:

Mary: What is Remote Energy and why did you form it?

Carol: Remote Energy’s core goal is to provide customized solar electric technical and training expertise to technicians, organizations, businesses or agencies that implement international development projects. We specialize in train-the-trainer’s courses to build local capacity in country and aide technical schools to start their own solar training program within existing departments.

Our group saw a need for high-quality customized trainings for international and lower-income populations.   We like to partner with organizations looking to use renewable energy to address issues related to jobs, health, clean water, education, gender equality, and alleviating poverty.

The Remote Energy core team has worked together for years on individual projects – doing international trainings and curriculum development – but before we all were operating our own companies. It became clear that we had a shared common vision – so it made sense to join efforts. We knew that we could take on more projects and reach a larger audience by starting an organization together.

Mary: Who is involved in Remote Energy and what parts of the world have they taught in?

Carol:  Our team together has conducted training activities and projects in more than 25 countries. We all have similar backgrounds as licensed electricians, solar installers, and working as solar trainers both nationally and internationally.

For me, I have traveled a lot to Haiti since 2009 teaching installers, training hospital technician’s in solar system maintenance, and building local capacity.  Most recently, Brad and I worked for the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) to help them develop a 40-week national training program for their new National Solar Training Center, run in partnership with Haiti Tec, a local technical college in Port-au-Prince.  Our curriculum is now taught in Creole by local trainers.  I have also taught in Africa and Asia.

Chris and Brad speak Spanish, and have conducted trainings in Central and South America as well as Africa and Asia. They have developed and implemented PV capacity building programs and water pumping projects in developing communities worldwide.   When they are not traveling, they work together for a solar installation company, Sun’s Eye Solar, in Tacoma, WA.

Jason is a licensed electrician an electrical contractor in WA, and has been installing off-grid systems in the San Juan Islands for 20 years. He started teaching for SEI in the Costa Rica and Guemes Island classes. It was really his initiative which pulled us all together to start working as a team.

It is exciting for me to have the opportunity to work with such a strong, qualified group that has a mission of bringing high-level education to countries with scarce economic resources. Our combined experiences position us to work on a variety of projects, from disaster relief efforts to creating top notch training centers.

Mary: How do you see your partnership with SEI developing?

Carol:  The Remote Energy team will continue our strong partnership with SEI by providing instructors for the Spanish and English PV programs.  We will also collaborate with SEI to bring technical PV training to populations that are generally underserved by capacity building programs, like the program we did with SEI and RREAL this past October.

Mary: What type of projects is Remote Energy excited about?

Carol: What I like doing the most is training trainers and helping those instructors set up solar programs within their existing communities and programs. There are technical colleges all over the world that could easily add solar to their existing electrical degree program to build up their local workforce -they don’t need to re-invent the wheel.  There is a tangible excitement in the classroom when teaching in emerging economies as they explore the impact solar technology and education can make. It is also extremely important that women are at these technical trainings as well – and thus I am looking forward to teaching more women-only classes internationally as well.

Our team also has the expertise and desire to partner with organizations to bring energy access to impoverished areas focusing on clean water, health and education. An example of this is doing PV training within the health sector by working with hospitals who are adding solar electric systems.  We have taught hands-on classes to designers and installers to assure that systems are built robust and to standards, as well as having taught specific trainings for on-site technicians who needed to maintain large inverter/battery systems to make sure systems last a long time. Good technicians are just as important as doctors in providing reliable health care – as they keep the lights and lab equipment energized. This type of training is crucial.

Our expertise can also aid in disaster relief efforts.  For example, this fall Chris Brooks is using his water pumping experience to help install solar inverter systems on existing AC water pumps to get clean water to Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria damaged electrical lines.  We would like to get more funding to do more of this type of work.

To find out more about Remote Energy and their projects, connect with Carol at carol@remoteenergy.org or visit Remote Energy’s website at remoteenergy.org.

The post Four SEI instructors team up to form nonprofit Remote Energy appeared first on Solar Training – Solar Installer Training – Solar PV Installation Training – Solar Energy Courses – Renewable Energy Education – NABCEP – Solar Energy International (SEI).

Cleaned-Up Coal and Clean Air: Facts About Air Quality and Coal-Fired Power Plants

Coal-fired electricity generation is far cleaner today than ever before. The popular misconception that our air quality is getting worse is wrong, as shown by EPA’s air quality data. Modern coal plants, and those retrofitted with modern technologies to reduce pollution, are a success story and are currently providing 30 percent of our electricity. Undoubtedly, pollution emitted by coal-fired power plants will continue to decrease as technology improves.

Executive Summary

America’s improving air quality is an untold success story. Even before Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970, air quality had been improving for decades. And since 1970, the six so-called criteria pollutants have declined significantly, even though the generation of electricity from coal-fired plants has increased by over 75 percent.[i] (The “criteria pollutants” are carbon monoxide, lead, sulfur dioxide [SO2], nitrogen oxides [NOx], ground-level ozone and particulate matter [PM]. They are called “criteria” pollutants because the EPA sets the criteria for permissible levels.) Total SO2 emissions from coal-fired plants were reduced by 85 percent between 1990 and 2015, and NOx emissions were reduced by 84 percent between 1990 and 2015. [ii]

The figure below shows the increases in gross domestic product (by 253 percent), vehicle miles traveled (190 percent), energy consumption (44 percent) and population (58 percent) since 1970, and it compares them to the decline in the aggregate emissions of criteria pollutants of 73 percent.[iii] Today, we produce and consume more energy, drive further and live more comfortably than we did in the past, all the while enjoying a cleaner environment.

Source: EPA

One factor in improving air quality has been the pollution-control technologies used by coal-fired power plants. Today’s coal-fired electricity generating plants produce more power with less emissions of criteria pollutants than ever before. According to the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), a new pulverized coal plant (operating at lower, “subcritical” temperatures and pressures) reduces the emission of NOx by 83 percent, SO2 by 98 percent and particulate matter (PM) by 99.8 percent, as compared with a similar plant having no pollution controls. Undoubtedly, air quality will continue to improve in the future because of improved technology.

Today, coal-fired electricity generation produces 30 percent of the electricity generated in America and provides many jobs. For example, Prairie State Energy Campus, a 1,600-megawatt supercritical coal plant in southern Illinois, generates clean electricity by using five technologies: nitrogen oxide controls, Selective Catalytic Reduction, dry electrostatic precipitators, sulfur dioxide scrubbers and wet electrostatic precipitators. Seven million tons of coal are mined a year at an adjacent coal mine to the power plant. Between its power plant, coal mine and other assets, the campus injects $785 million annually into the economy, employing over 600 workers. The plant operates at 98.5 percent availability while emitting 80 percent less in regulated pollutants than most existing power plants.[iv] The power plant delivers electricity to 2.5 million homes in eight states.[v]  It can do this around the clock and is responsive to demand for power that consumers may have.

According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2017, coal represented 16 percent of the total energy consumption in the United States and 28 percent of the world’s energy consumption in 2016. Globally, coal was second only to oil which had a 33 percent share.[vi] And according to the Energy Information Administration, almost 40 percent of the world’s electricity was generated from coal in 2016, greater than the 30 percent share in the United States.[vii]

Background

Even before Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970, creating the Environmental Protection Agency, air quality was improving. Prior to 1970, businesses saw certain types of pollution as waste, and worked to reduce them through technological improvements in order to increase efficiency. State and local policymakers worked to reduce pollution as well.

The Clean Air Act requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards to control pollutants considered harmful to public health or the environment: these are the so-called criteria pollutants.

Two of these pollutants, SO2 and NOx are the principal pollutants that cause acid precipitation (colloquially known as acid rain). SO2 and NOx emissions react with water vapor and other chemicals in the air to form acids that fall back to earth. Prior to controlling for these emissions, power plants produced most (about two-thirds) of the SO2 emissions in the United States. The majority (about 50 percent) of NOx emissions came from cars, buses, trucks and other forms of transportation, with power plants contributing about 25 percent. The remainder came from other sources, such as industrial and commercial boilers.

The Clean Air Act was modified in 1990 and introduced a cap on the total amount of SO2 emissions that may be emitted by electric power plants nationwide, thereby reducing the level of these emissions in the atmosphere. The approach used for compliance was a cap-and-trade program. In order to comply with the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, electric utilities could either switch to low sulfur coal, add equipment (e.g., scrubbers) to existing coal-fired power plants that removes SO2 emissions, purchase permits from other utilities that exceeded the reductions needed to comply with the cap or use other means of reducing emissions below the cap, such as operating high-sulfur units at a lower capacity utilization.

The Clean Air Interstate Rule in the Clean Air Act addresses interstate transport of air emissions from power plants. The Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) replaces it and was upheld by the Supreme Court in October 2014. Phase 1 began in December 2014 and Phase II, with more stringent targets, took effect in January 2016. While CSAPR remains in place, the courts remanded CSAPR back to EPA in June 2015 for additional refinement affecting the Phase II implementation of NOx emission limits.[viii]

Under CSAPR, 27 states must restrict emissions of sulfur dioxide and/or nitrogen oxide, which are precursors to the formation of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone. CSAPR establishes four distinct allowance trading programs for SO2 and NOx composed of different member states based upon the contribution of each state to downwind non-attainment of National Ambient Air Quality Standards. CSAPR splits the allowance trading program into two regions for SO2, with trading permitted only between states within a group but not between groups.

In addition to interstate transport rule, the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 introduced the requirement for existing major stationary sources of NOx located in nonattainment areas to install and operate NOx controls which meet “Reasonably Available Control Technology” (RACT) standards. To implement this requirement, EPA developed a two-phase nitrogen oxide (NOx) program, with the first set of RACT standards for existing coal plants applied in 1996 while the second set was implemented in 2000. Dry bottom wall-fired and tangential-fired boilers, the most common boiler types, are referred to as Group 1 Boilers, and were required to make significant reductions beginning in 1996 and further reductions in 2000. Relative to their uncontrolled emission rates, which range roughly between 0.6 and 1.0 pounds per million Btu, they are required to make reductions between 25 percent and 50 percent to meet the Phase I limits and further reductions to meet the Phase II limits. All new fossil units are required to meet current standards. In pounds per million Btu, these limits are 0.11 for conventional coal, 0.02 for advanced coal, 0.02 for combined cycle and 0.08 for combustion turbines.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule (MATS) was finalized in December 2011 to fulfill EPA’s requirement to regulate mercury emissions from power plants. MATS also regulates other hazardous air pollutants (HAPS) such as hydrogen chloride (HCl) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). MATS applies to coal and oil-fired power plants with a nameplate capacity greater than 25 megawatts. The standards were scheduled to take effect in 2015 but allow for a one-year waiver to comply. They also require all qualifying units to achieve the maximum achievable control technology (MACT) for each of the three covered pollutants. All power plants are required to reduce their mercury emissions to 90 percent below their uncontrolled emissions levels. When plants alter their configuration by adding equipment such as a Selective Catalytic Reduction to remove NOx or an SO2 scrubber, removal of mercury is often a resulting co-benefit. Plants can also add activated carbon injection systems specifically designed to remove mercury. Activated carbon can be injected in front of existing particulate control devices or a supplemental fabric filter can be added with activated carbon injection capability.

Coal Industry Emissions Reduction

Of the 266,620 megawatts of coal-fired capacity reporting their control technologies to the Energy Information Administration in 2016, 81 percent (215,438 megawatts) have flue gas desulfurization equipment (scrubbers), 82 percent (219,745 megawatts) have electrostatic precipitators, 36 percent (96,258) have fabric filters (baghouses), 68 percent (182,175 megawatts) have select catalytic reduction systems, 54 percent (145,050 megawatts) have advanced carbon injection systems and 9 percent (24,989 megawatts) have direct sorbent injection systems. [ix]

The following graph compares SO2 and NOx emissions from coal-fired power plants from 1990 to 2015. Between 1990 and 2015, SO2 emissions from coal-fired plants were reduced by 85 percent and NOx emissions were reduced by 84 percent.

Source: Energy Information Administration

A study by the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) compared the emission rates from pulverized coal plants and integrated gasification combined cycle plants based on environmental regulations to control sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx), mercury (Hg), particulate matter (PM) and carbon dioxide (CO2) at a greenfield site, assuming capacity factors of 85 percent, which would require the plants to be at the top of the dispatch order. Mercury, SO2, NOx and PM are controlled with dry sorbent injection (DSI) and activated carbon injection (ACI); wet flue gas desulfurization (FGD), low NOx burners (LNB) and Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) and a baghouse, respectively. All of the power plant configurations with carbon capture are designed to achieve 90 percent capture, resulting in atmospheric CO2 emissions far below the proposed EPA regulation. Integrated gasification units have lower levels of emissions than pulverized coal plants.

Source: NETL

According to NETL, for a new pulverized coal plant (subcritical), pollution controls reduce NOx emissions 83 percent, SO2 emissions by 98 percent and PM by 99.8 percent when compared with a similar plant with no pollution controls. The target emission level for NOx is 0.085 lb/MMBtu, for SO2 is 0.085 lb/MMBtu and for PM is 0.011 lb/MMBtu.[x] Without control technologies, a subcritical coal plant would emit 0.5 lb/MMBtu of NOx, 4.35 lb/MMBtu of SO2 and 6.5 lb/MMBtu of PM. The figure below graphically depicts the criteria pollutants from a new controlled plant vs. a new uncontrolled plant.

Source: NETL

Cost Factors in Emission Reductions

According to the EIA, the costs of adding flue gas desulfurization (FGD) equipment to remove sulfur dioxide, in 2015 dollars, range from $952 per kilowatt for a unit less than 100 megawatts to $417 a kilowatt for a unit 700 megawatts or larger. The costs for SCR equipment to remove nitrogen oxides range from $424 per kilowatt for a unit less than 100 megawatts to $193 per kilowatt for a unit that is 700 megawatts or larger. The costs for fabric filters (FF) range from $274 per kilowatt for a unit less than 100 megawatts to $141 per kilowatt for a unit that is 700 megawatts or larger. The costs for direct sorbent injection (DSI) range from $196 per kilowatt for a unit that is less than 100 megawatts to $30 per kilowatt for a unit that is 700 megawatts or larger. The costs per megawatt of capacity decline with plant size.  FGD units are assumed to remove 95 percent of the SO2 and SCR units are assumed to remove 90 percent of the NOx. DSI units remove 70 percent of SO2, but DSI is available only under MATS as its primary function is to remove hydrogen chloride. [xi] (See table below.) 

 

Coal Plant Retrofit Costs

Source: EIA

The NETL study provides estimates of both the capital cost and the levelized cost of these technologies, which are given in the table below in 2011 dollars. The levelized cost is the present value of the total cost of building and operating the plant over its economic life, converted to equal annual payments. The plant costs range from $1,960 to $2,026 per kilowatt for a 550 megawatt coal plant and $685 per kilowatt for a 630 megawatt natural gas combined cycle plant. The levelized plant cost was computed using the following fuel prices: $2.94/MMBtu for coal and $6.13/MMBtu for natural gas. The levelized coal plant costs are about 8.2 cents per kWh and for natural gas combined cycle 5.76 cents per kWh.

Source: NETL

Coal-fired electricity generation is far cleaner today than ever before. The popular misconception that our air quality is getting worse is wrong, as shown by EPA’s data.[xii] Modern coal plants, and those retrofitted with modern technologies to reduce pollution, are a success story and are currently providing about 30 percent of our electricity. Undoubtedly, pollution emissions from coal-fired power plants will continue to fall as technology improves.

Cap-and-Trade: “Acid Rain” versus Greenhouse Gases

The results of using a cap-and-trade system to fight “acid rain” have led some to argue that it is a model for efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. But the analogy fails. Stark differences exist between the “acid rain” emission-reduction program and the challenge of reducing carbon dioxide, a natural byproduct of combustion, emitted by natural and man-made sources.

Carbon dioxide is emitted in the U.S. by hundreds of millions of sources, including every personal automobile, the appliances many of us use to cook our food and heat our homes and the businesses upon which we depend for our livelihoods, to name a few. The “acid rain” emission reduction program was initially limited to 110 site-specific utility plants, and then later expanded to 445 plants.[xiii] In addition, carbon dioxide is a world-wide byproduct of combustion, whereas all criteria pollutants are local or regional. In other words, what the United States did for SO2 and NOx directly affected air quality here, while national action to limit carbon dioxide emissions will have little bearing on aggregate global emissions.

Furthermore, at the time of the SO2 and NOx reduction program, alternative low sulfur coal sources existed and utilities had available affordable and proven technologies to utilities to reduce their emissions. When Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, coal-fired utilities could responsibly reduce emissions from their plants using various options that limited cost impacts to the consumer.

In addition, attempts to extrapolate the “acid rain” success story to the challenge of reducing carbon dioxide emissions fail to recognize the history of similar programs in other parts of the world. For example, the “Emissions Trading Scheme” of the European Union has been ineffective at reducing carbon dioxide emissions at the same time it has increased prices and harmed businesses and consumers.[xiv] Further, the EU program has enriched some companies and industries at the expense of consumers.

A recent study by Laurie Williams and Allen Zabel, career employees of the Environmental Protection Agency, makes these points about what the authors call the “Acid Rain Myth.”[xv] As the authors explain, those who champion the use of cap-and-trade to address global warming ignore the crucial distinctions between the issues we faced in 1990 with acid rain and the issues we face today with global warming.

The following highlights Williams and Zabel’s study demonstrate that the experience of the acid rain program cannot and should not be compared to cap and trade for greenhouse gas emissions:

  • “Most importantly, the success of the Acid Rain program did not depend on replacing the vast majority of our existing energy infrastructure with new infrastructure in a relatively short time. Nor did it depend on spurring major innovation. Rather, the Acid Rain program was successful as a mechanism to guide existing facilities to undertake a fuel switch to a readily available substitute, the low sulfur coal in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.”
  • “The goal of the Acid Rain program was to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions, while keeping the cost of energy from coal low. To be effective, climate change legislation must do the opposite; it must gradually increase the relative price of energy from coal and other fossil fuels to create the appropriate incentives for both conservation and the scale-up of clean energy.”
  • “Further, the Acid Rain program did not allow any outside offsets and so provides no basis for the widespread assumption that an offset program will help with climate change. In addition, the success of the program was aided by the low, competitive price of low-sulfur coal.”
  • “According to Professor Don Munton, author of ‘Dispelling the Myths of the Acid Rain Story’ the impact of the program has been overstated: The potential for a massive switch to low sulfur coal was no secret. Such coal was cheap and available, and it became cheaper and more available throughout the 1980s. Indeed, low-sulfur coal became very competitive with high-sulfur supplied well before the Clean Air Act became law.”

Conclusion

Coal remains an economically vital component of the U.S. and world energy market. Coal-fired electricity is now an environmental product, utilizing the latest technology to control each of its major criteria pollutants. The aspersion that coal is the “dirtiest fossil fuel” masks this reality.

In many parts of the world, the major environmental opportunity is to clean-up existing coal plants and build new plants using modern emission-control technology. The false choice is to close plants (or not build them) in favor of intermittent renewables.

The U.S. success story is a model for the developing world. The mechanisms available to reduce pollutants allow for more generation of energy with less pollution. But this success cannot be extrapolated to the regulation and reduction of carbon dioxide, a much more challenging undertaking. None of the conditions existing at the time of the apparent success of the SO2 and NOx reduction program apply to carbon dioxide. The challenges presented by the control and regulation of carbon dioxide have no parallels in the history of emission regulation.


[i] Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review, https://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/monthly/pdf/sec7_5.pdf

[ii] Energy Information Administration, https://www.eia.gov/electricity/data.php#elecenv

[iii] Environmental Protection Agency, https://gispub.epa.gov/air/trendsreport/2017/#growth_w_cleaner_air

[iv] Wikipedia, Prairie State Energy Campus, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prairie_State_Energy_Campus

[v] Prairie State Energy Campus, http://www.prairiestateenergycampus.com/

[vi] BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2017, https://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/energy-economics/statistical-review-of-world-energy/downloads.html

[vii] Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2017, Tables H12 and H15, https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/ieo/ieo_tables.php

[viii] Energy Information Administration, Electricity Market Module, https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/assumptions/pdf/electricity.pdf

[ix] Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Annual, Table 9.2, https://www.eia.gov/electricity/data.php#elecenv

[x] National Energy Technology Laboratory, Cost and Performance Baseline for Fossil Energy Plants, July 31, 2015, https://www.netl.doe.gov/energy-analyses/temp/CostandPerformanceBaselineforFEPlantsVol1bBitCoalIGCCtoElecRev2bYearDollarUpdate_073115.pdf

[xi] Energy Information Administration, Assumptions to the Electricity Market Module for Annual Energy Outlook 2017, https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/assumptions/pdf/electricity.pdf

[xii] Environmental Protection Agency, https://gispub.epa.gov/air/trendsreport/2017/#growth_w_cleaner_air

[xiii] Kenneth P. Green et. al, Climate Change: Caps vs. Taxes, American Enterprise Institute, (June 2007) http://www.aei.org/publication/climate-change-caps-vs-taxes/

[xiv] See European Union, Emissions trading: 2007 verified emissions from EU ETS businesses, May 23, 2008, http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/08/787&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

[xv] Keeping Our Eyes on the Wrong Ball, 2/21/09, http://www.carbonfees.org/home/Cap-and-TradeVsCarbonFees.pdf

 

The post Cleaned-Up Coal and Clean Air: Facts About Air Quality and Coal-Fired Power Plants appeared first on IER.

Cleaned-Up Coal and Clean Air: Facts About Air Quality and Coal-Fired Power Plants

Coal-fired electricity generation is far cleaner today than ever before. The popular misconception that our air quality is getting worse is wrong, as shown by EPA’s air quality data. Modern coal plants, and those retrofitted with modern technologies to reduce pollution, are a success story and are currently providing 30 percent of our electricity. Undoubtedly, pollution emitted by coal-fired power plants will continue to decrease as technology improves.

Executive Summary

America’s improving air quality is an untold success story. Even before Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970, air quality had been improving for decades. And since 1970, the six so-called criteria pollutants have declined significantly, even though the generation of electricity from coal-fired plants has increased by over 75 percent.[i] (The “criteria pollutants” are carbon monoxide, lead, sulfur dioxide [SO2], nitrogen oxides [NOx], ground-level ozone and particulate matter [PM]. They are called “criteria” pollutants because the EPA sets the criteria for permissible levels.) Total SO2 emissions from coal-fired plants were reduced by 85 percent between 1990 and 2015, and NOx emissions were reduced by 84 percent between 1990 and 2015. [ii]

The figure below shows the increases in gross domestic product (by 253 percent), vehicle miles traveled (190 percent), energy consumption (44 percent) and population (58 percent) since 1970, and it compares them to the decline in the aggregate emissions of criteria pollutants of 73 percent.[iii] Today, we produce and consume more energy, drive further and live more comfortably than we did in the past, all the while enjoying a cleaner environment.

Source: EPA

One factor in improving air quality has been the pollution-control technologies used by coal-fired power plants. Today’s coal-fired electricity generating plants produce more power with less emissions of criteria pollutants than ever before. According to the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), a new pulverized coal plant (operating at lower, “subcritical” temperatures and pressures) reduces the emission of NOx by 83 percent, SO2 by 98 percent and particulate matter (PM) by 99.8 percent, as compared with a similar plant having no pollution controls. Undoubtedly, air quality will continue to improve in the future because of improved technology.

Today, coal-fired electricity generation produces 30 percent of the electricity generated in America and provides many jobs. For example, Prairie State Energy Campus, a 1,600-megawatt supercritical coal plant in southern Illinois, generates clean electricity by using five technologies: nitrogen oxide controls, Selective Catalytic Reduction, dry electrostatic precipitators, sulfur dioxide scrubbers and wet electrostatic precipitators. Seven million tons of coal are mined a year at an adjacent coal mine to the power plant. Between its power plant, coal mine and other assets, the campus injects $785 million annually into the economy, employing over 600 workers. The plant operates at 98.5 percent availability while emitting 80 percent less in regulated pollutants than most existing power plants.[iv] The power plant delivers electricity to 2.5 million homes in eight states.[v]  It can do this around the clock and is responsive to demand for power that consumers may have.

According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2017, coal represented 16 percent of the total energy consumption in the United States and 28 percent of the world’s energy consumption in 2016. Globally, coal was second only to oil which had a 33 percent share.[vi] And according to the Energy Information Administration, almost 40 percent of the world’s electricity was generated from coal in 2016, greater than the 30 percent share in the United States.[vii]

Background

Even before Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970, creating the Environmental Protection Agency, air quality was improving. Prior to 1970, businesses saw certain types of pollution as waste, and worked to reduce them through technological improvements in order to increase efficiency. State and local policymakers worked to reduce pollution as well.

The Clean Air Act requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards to control pollutants considered harmful to public health or the environment: these are the so-called criteria pollutants.

Two of these pollutants, SO2 and NOx are the principal pollutants that cause acid precipitation (colloquially known as acid rain). SO2 and NOx emissions react with water vapor and other chemicals in the air to form acids that fall back to earth. Prior to controlling for these emissions, power plants produced most (about two-thirds) of the SO2 emissions in the United States. The majority (about 50 percent) of NOx emissions came from cars, buses, trucks and other forms of transportation, with power plants contributing about 25 percent. The remainder came from other sources, such as industrial and commercial boilers.

The Clean Air Act was modified in 1990 and introduced a cap on the total amount of SO2 emissions that may be emitted by electric power plants nationwide, thereby reducing the level of these emissions in the atmosphere. The approach used for compliance was a cap-and-trade program. In order to comply with the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, electric utilities could either switch to low sulfur coal, add equipment (e.g., scrubbers) to existing coal-fired power plants that removes SO2 emissions, purchase permits from other utilities that exceeded the reductions needed to comply with the cap or use other means of reducing emissions below the cap, such as operating high-sulfur units at a lower capacity utilization.

The Clean Air Interstate Rule in the Clean Air Act addresses interstate transport of air emissions from power plants. The Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) replaces it and was upheld by the Supreme Court in October 2014. Phase 1 began in December 2014 and Phase II, with more stringent targets, took effect in January 2016. While CSAPR remains in place, the courts remanded CSAPR back to EPA in June 2015 for additional refinement affecting the Phase II implementation of NOx emission limits.[viii]

Under CSAPR, 27 states must restrict emissions of sulfur dioxide and/or nitrogen oxide, which are precursors to the formation of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone. CSAPR establishes four distinct allowance trading programs for SO2 and NOx composed of different member states based upon the contribution of each state to downwind non-attainment of National Ambient Air Quality Standards. CSAPR splits the allowance trading program into two regions for SO2, with trading permitted only between states within a group but not between groups.

In addition to interstate transport rule, the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 introduced the requirement for existing major stationary sources of NOx located in nonattainment areas to install and operate NOx controls which meet “Reasonably Available Control Technology” (RACT) standards. To implement this requirement, EPA developed a two-phase nitrogen oxide (NOx) program, with the first set of RACT standards for existing coal plants applied in 1996 while the second set was implemented in 2000. Dry bottom wall-fired and tangential-fired boilers, the most common boiler types, are referred to as Group 1 Boilers, and were required to make significant reductions beginning in 1996 and further reductions in 2000. Relative to their uncontrolled emission rates, which range roughly between 0.6 and 1.0 pounds per million Btu, they are required to make reductions between 25 percent and 50 percent to meet the Phase I limits and further reductions to meet the Phase II limits. All new fossil units are required to meet current standards. In pounds per million Btu, these limits are 0.11 for conventional coal, 0.02 for advanced coal, 0.02 for combined cycle and 0.08 for combustion turbines.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule (MATS) was finalized in December 2011 to fulfill EPA’s requirement to regulate mercury emissions from power plants. MATS also regulates other hazardous air pollutants (HAPS) such as hydrogen chloride (HCl) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). MATS applies to coal and oil-fired power plants with a nameplate capacity greater than 25 megawatts. The standards were scheduled to take effect in 2015 but allow for a one-year waiver to comply. They also require all qualifying units to achieve the maximum achievable control technology (MACT) for each of the three covered pollutants. All power plants are required to reduce their mercury emissions to 90 percent below their uncontrolled emissions levels. When plants alter their configuration by adding equipment such as a Selective Catalytic Reduction to remove NOx or an SO2 scrubber, removal of mercury is often a resulting co-benefit. Plants can also add activated carbon injection systems specifically designed to remove mercury. Activated carbon can be injected in front of existing particulate control devices or a supplemental fabric filter can be added with activated carbon injection capability.

Coal Industry Emissions Reduction

Of the 266,620 megawatts of coal-fired capacity reporting their control technologies to the Energy Information Administration in 2016, 81 percent (215,438 megawatts) have flue gas desulfurization equipment (scrubbers), 82 percent (219,745 megawatts) have electrostatic precipitators, 36 percent (96,258) have fabric filters (baghouses), 68 percent (182,175 megawatts) have select catalytic reduction systems, 54 percent (145,050 megawatts) have advanced carbon injection systems and 9 percent (24,989 megawatts) have direct sorbent injection systems. [ix]

The following graph compares SO2 and NOx emissions from coal-fired power plants from 1990 to 2015. Between 1990 and 2015, SO2 emissions from coal-fired plants were reduced by 85 percent and NOx emissions were reduced by 84 percent.

Source: Energy Information Administration

A study by the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) compared the emission rates from pulverized coal plants and integrated gasification combined cycle plants based on environmental regulations to control sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx), mercury (Hg), particulate matter (PM) and carbon dioxide (CO2) at a greenfield site, assuming capacity factors of 85 percent, which would require the plants to be at the top of the dispatch order. Mercury, SO2, NOx and PM are controlled with dry sorbent injection (DSI) and activated carbon injection (ACI); wet flue gas desulfurization (FGD), low NOx burners (LNB) and Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) and a baghouse, respectively. All of the power plant configurations with carbon capture are designed to achieve 90 percent capture, resulting in atmospheric CO2 emissions far below the proposed EPA regulation. Integrated gasification units have lower levels of emissions than pulverized coal plants.

Source: NETL

According to NETL, for a new pulverized coal plant (subcritical), pollution controls reduce NOx emissions 83 percent, SO2 emissions by 98 percent and PM by 99.8 percent when compared with a similar plant with no pollution controls. The target emission level for NOx is 0.085 lb/MMBtu, for SO2 is 0.085 lb/MMBtu and for PM is 0.011 lb/MMBtu.[x] Without control technologies, a subcritical coal plant would emit 0.5 lb/MMBtu of NOx, 4.35 lb/MMBtu of SO2 and 6.5 lb/MMBtu of PM. The figure below graphically depicts the criteria pollutants from a new controlled plant vs. a new uncontrolled plant.

Source: NETL

Cost Factors in Emission Reductions

According to the EIA, the costs of adding flue gas desulfurization (FGD) equipment to remove sulfur dioxide, in 2015 dollars, range from $952 per kilowatt for a unit less than 100 megawatts to $417 a kilowatt for a unit 700 megawatts or larger. The costs for SCR equipment to remove nitrogen oxides range from $424 per kilowatt for a unit less than 100 megawatts to $193 per kilowatt for a unit that is 700 megawatts or larger. The costs for fabric filters (FF) range from $274 per kilowatt for a unit less than 100 megawatts to $141 per kilowatt for a unit that is 700 megawatts or larger. The costs for direct sorbent injection (DSI) range from $196 per kilowatt for a unit that is less than 100 megawatts to $30 per kilowatt for a unit that is 700 megawatts or larger. The costs per megawatt of capacity decline with plant size.  FGD units are assumed to remove 95 percent of the SO2 and SCR units are assumed to remove 90 percent of the NOx. DSI units remove 70 percent of SO2, but DSI is available only under MATS as its primary function is to remove hydrogen chloride. [xi] (See table below.) 

 

Coal Plant Retrofit Costs

Source: EIA

The NETL study provides estimates of both the capital cost and the levelized cost of these technologies, which are given in the table below in 2011 dollars. The levelized cost is the present value of the total cost of building and operating the plant over its economic life, converted to equal annual payments. The plant costs range from $1,960 to $2,026 per kilowatt for a 550 megawatt coal plant and $685 per kilowatt for a 630 megawatt natural gas combined cycle plant. The levelized plant cost was computed using the following fuel prices: $2.94/MMBtu for coal and $6.13/MMBtu for natural gas. The levelized coal plant costs are about 8.2 cents per kWh and for natural gas combined cycle 5.76 cents per kWh.

Source: NETL

Coal-fired electricity generation is far cleaner today than ever before. The popular misconception that our air quality is getting worse is wrong, as shown by EPA’s data.[xii] Modern coal plants, and those retrofitted with modern technologies to reduce pollution, are a success story and are currently providing about 30 percent of our electricity. Undoubtedly, pollution emissions from coal-fired power plants will continue to fall as technology improves.

Cap-and-Trade: “Acid Rain” versus Greenhouse Gases

The results of using a cap-and-trade system to fight “acid rain” have led some to argue that it is a model for efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. But the analogy fails. Stark differences exist between the “acid rain” emission-reduction program and the challenge of reducing carbon dioxide, a natural byproduct of combustion, emitted by natural and man-made sources.

Carbon dioxide is emitted in the U.S. by hundreds of millions of sources, including every personal automobile, the appliances many of us use to cook our food and heat our homes and the businesses upon which we depend for our livelihoods, to name a few. The “acid rain” emission reduction program was initially limited to 110 site-specific utility plants, and then later expanded to 445 plants.[xiii] In addition, carbon dioxide is a world-wide byproduct of combustion, whereas all criteria pollutants are local or regional. In other words, what the United States did for SO2 and NOx directly affected air quality here, while national action to limit carbon dioxide emissions will have little bearing on aggregate global emissions.

Furthermore, at the time of the SO2 and NOx reduction program, alternative low sulfur coal sources existed and utilities had available affordable and proven technologies to utilities to reduce their emissions. When Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, coal-fired utilities could responsibly reduce emissions from their plants using various options that limited cost impacts to the consumer.

In addition, attempts to extrapolate the “acid rain” success story to the challenge of reducing carbon dioxide emissions fail to recognize the history of similar programs in other parts of the world. For example, the “Emissions Trading Scheme” of the European Union has been ineffective at reducing carbon dioxide emissions at the same time it has increased prices and harmed businesses and consumers.[xiv] Further, the EU program has enriched some companies and industries at the expense of consumers.

A recent study by Laurie Williams and Allen Zabel, career employees of the Environmental Protection Agency, makes these points about what the authors call the “Acid Rain Myth.”[xv] As the authors explain, those who champion the use of cap-and-trade to address global warming ignore the crucial distinctions between the issues we faced in 1990 with acid rain and the issues we face today with global warming.

The following highlights Williams and Zabel’s study demonstrate that the experience of the acid rain program cannot and should not be compared to cap and trade for greenhouse gas emissions:

  • “Most importantly, the success of the Acid Rain program did not depend on replacing the vast majority of our existing energy infrastructure with new infrastructure in a relatively short time. Nor did it depend on spurring major innovation. Rather, the Acid Rain program was successful as a mechanism to guide existing facilities to undertake a fuel switch to a readily available substitute, the low sulfur coal in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.”
  • “The goal of the Acid Rain program was to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions, while keeping the cost of energy from coal low. To be effective, climate change legislation must do the opposite; it must gradually increase the relative price of energy from coal and other fossil fuels to create the appropriate incentives for both conservation and the scale-up of clean energy.”
  • “Further, the Acid Rain program did not allow any outside offsets and so provides no basis for the widespread assumption that an offset program will help with climate change. In addition, the success of the program was aided by the low, competitive price of low-sulfur coal.”
  • “According to Professor Don Munton, author of ‘Dispelling the Myths of the Acid Rain Story’ the impact of the program has been overstated: The potential for a massive switch to low sulfur coal was no secret. Such coal was cheap and available, and it became cheaper and more available throughout the 1980s. Indeed, low-sulfur coal became very competitive with high-sulfur supplied well before the Clean Air Act became law.”

Conclusion

Coal remains an economically vital component of the U.S. and world energy market. Coal-fired electricity is now an environmental product, utilizing the latest technology to control each of its major criteria pollutants. The aspersion that coal is the “dirtiest fossil fuel” masks this reality.

In many parts of the world, the major environmental opportunity is to clean-up existing coal plants and build new plants using modern emission-control technology. The false choice is to close plants (or not build them) in favor of intermittent renewables.

The U.S. success story is a model for the developing world. The mechanisms available to reduce pollutants allow for more generation of energy with less pollution. But this success cannot be extrapolated to the regulation and reduction of carbon dioxide, a much more challenging undertaking. None of the conditions existing at the time of the apparent success of the SO2 and NOx reduction program apply to carbon dioxide. The challenges presented by the control and regulation of carbon dioxide have no parallels in the history of emission regulation.


[i] Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review, https://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/monthly/pdf/sec7_5.pdf

[ii] Energy Information Administration, https://www.eia.gov/electricity/data.php#elecenv

[iii] Environmental Protection Agency, https://gispub.epa.gov/air/trendsreport/2017/#growth_w_cleaner_air

[iv] Wikipedia, Prairie State Energy Campus, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prairie_State_Energy_Campus

[v] Prairie State Energy Campus, http://www.prairiestateenergycampus.com/

[vi] BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2017, https://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/energy-economics/statistical-review-of-world-energy/downloads.html

[vii] Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2017, Tables H12 and H15, https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/ieo/ieo_tables.php

[viii] Energy Information Administration, Electricity Market Module, https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/assumptions/pdf/electricity.pdf

[ix] Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Annual, Table 9.2, https://www.eia.gov/electricity/data.php#elecenv

[x] National Energy Technology Laboratory, Cost and Performance Baseline for Fossil Energy Plants, July 31, 2015, https://www.netl.doe.gov/energy-analyses/temp/CostandPerformanceBaselineforFEPlantsVol1bBitCoalIGCCtoElecRev2bYearDollarUpdate_073115.pdf

[xi] Energy Information Administration, Assumptions to the Electricity Market Module for Annual Energy Outlook 2017, https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/assumptions/pdf/electricity.pdf

[xii] Environmental Protection Agency, https://gispub.epa.gov/air/trendsreport/2017/#growth_w_cleaner_air

[xiii] Kenneth P. Green et. al, Climate Change: Caps vs. Taxes, American Enterprise Institute, (June 2007) http://www.aei.org/publication/climate-change-caps-vs-taxes/

[xiv] See European Union, Emissions trading: 2007 verified emissions from EU ETS businesses, May 23, 2008, http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/08/787&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

[xv] Keeping Our Eyes on the Wrong Ball, 2/21/09, http://www.carbonfees.org/home/Cap-and-TradeVsCarbonFees.pdf

 

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from Raymond Castleberry Blog http://raymondcastleberry.blogspot.com/2017/11/cleaned-up-coal-and-clean-air-facts.html
via http://raymondcastleberry.blogspot.com

Cleaned-Up Coal and Clean Air: Facts About Air Quality and Coal-Fired Power Plants

Coal-fired electricity generation is far cleaner today than ever before. The popular misconception that our air quality is getting worse is wrong, as shown by EPA’s air quality data. Modern coal plants, and those retrofitted with modern technologies to reduce pollution, are a success story and are currently providing 30 percent of our electricity. Undoubtedly, pollution emitted by coal-fired power plants will continue to decrease as technology improves.

Executive Summary

America’s improving air quality is an untold success story. Even before Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970, air quality had been improving for decades. And since 1970, the six so-called criteria pollutants have declined significantly, even though the generation of electricity from coal-fired plants has increased by over 75 percent.[i] (The “criteria pollutants” are carbon monoxide, lead, sulfur dioxide [SO2], nitrogen oxides [NOx], ground-level ozone and particulate matter [PM]. They are called “criteria” pollutants because the EPA sets the criteria for permissible levels.) Total SO2 emissions from coal-fired plants were reduced by 85 percent between 1990 and 2015, and NOx emissions were reduced by 84 percent between 1990 and 2015. [ii]

The figure below shows the increases in gross domestic product (by 253 percent), vehicle miles traveled (190 percent), energy consumption (44 percent) and population (58 percent) since 1970, and it compares them to the decline in the aggregate emissions of criteria pollutants of 73 percent.[iii] Today, we produce and consume more energy, drive further and live more comfortably than we did in the past, all the while enjoying a cleaner environment.

Source: EPA

One factor in improving air quality has been the pollution-control technologies used by coal-fired power plants. Today’s coal-fired electricity generating plants produce more power with less emissions of criteria pollutants than ever before. According to the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), a new pulverized coal plant (operating at lower, “subcritical” temperatures and pressures) reduces the emission of NOx by 83 percent, SO2 by 98 percent and particulate matter (PM) by 99.8 percent, as compared with a similar plant having no pollution controls. Undoubtedly, air quality will continue to improve in the future because of improved technology.

Today, coal-fired electricity generation produces 30 percent of the electricity generated in America and provides many jobs. For example, Prairie State Energy Campus, a 1,600-megawatt supercritical coal plant in southern Illinois, generates clean electricity by using five technologies: nitrogen oxide controls, selective catalytic reduction, dry electrostatic precipitators, sulfur dioxide scrubbers and wet electrostatic precipitators. Seven million tons of coal are mined a year at an adjacent coal mine to the power plant. Between its power plant, coal mine and other assets, the campus injects $785 million annually into the economy, employing over 600 workers. The plant operates at 98.5 percent availability while emitting 80 percent less in regulated pollutants than most existing power plants.[iv] The power plant delivers electricity to 2.5 million homes in eight states.[v]  It can do this around the clock and is responsive to demand for power that consumers may have.

According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2017, coal represented 16 percent of the total energy consumption in the United States and 28 percent of the world’s energy consumption in 2016. Globally, coal was second only to oil which had a 33 percent share.[vi] And according to the Energy Information Administration, almost 40 percent of the world’s electricity was generated from coal in 2016, greater than the 30 percent share in the United States.[vii]

Background

Even before Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970, creating the Environmental Protection Agency, air quality was improving. Prior to 1970, businesses saw certain types of pollution as waste, and worked to reduce them through technological improvements in order to increase efficiency. State and local policymakers worked to reduce pollution as well.

The Clean Air Act requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards to control pollutants considered harmful to public health or the environment: these are the so-called criteria pollutants.

Two of these pollutants, SO2 and NOx are the principal pollutants that cause acid precipitation (colloquially known as acid rain). SO2 and NOx emissions react with water vapor and other chemicals in the air to form acids that fall back to earth. Prior to controlling for these emissions, power plants produced most (about two-thirds) of the SO2 emissions in the United States. The majority (about 50 percent) of NOx emissions came from cars, buses, trucks and other forms of transportation, with power plants contributing about 25 percent. The remainder came from other sources, such as industrial and commercial boilers.

The Clean Air Act was modified in 1990 and introduced a cap on the total amount of SO2 emissions that may be emitted by electric power plants nationwide, thereby reducing the level of these emissions in the atmosphere. The approach used for compliance was a cap-and-trade program. In order to comply with the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, electric utilities could either switch to low sulfur coal, add equipment (e.g., scrubbers) to existing coal-fired power plants that removes SO2 emissions, purchase permits from other utilities that exceeded the reductions needed to comply with the cap or use other means of reducing emissions below the cap, such as operating high-sulfur units at a lower capacity utilization.

The Clean Air Interstate Rule in the Clean Air Act addresses interstate transport of air emissions from power plants. The Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) replaces it and was upheld by the Supreme Court in October 2014. Phase 1 began in December 2014 and Phase II, with more stringent targets, took effect in January 2016. While CSAPR remains in place, the courts remanded CSAPR back to EPA in June 2015 for additional refinement affecting the Phase II implementation of NOx emission limits.[viii]

Under CSAPR, 27 states must restrict emissions of sulfur dioxide and/or nitrogen oxide, which are precursors to the formation of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone. CSAPR establishes four distinct allowance trading programs for SO2 and NOx composed of different member states based upon the contribution of each state to downwind non-attainment of National Ambient Air Quality Standards. CSAPR splits the allowance trading program into two regions for SO2, with trading permitted only between states within a group but not between groups.

In addition to interstate transport rule, the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 introduced the requirement for existing major stationary sources of NOx located in nonattainment areas to install and operate NOx controls which meet “Reasonably Available Control Technology” (RACT) standards. To implement this requirement, EPA developed a two-phase nitrogen oxide (NOx) program, with the first set of RACT standards for existing coal plants applied in 1996 while the second set was implemented in 2000. Dry bottom wall-fired and tangential-fired boilers, the most common boiler types, are referred to as Group 1 Boilers, and were required to make significant reductions beginning in 1996 and further reductions in 2000. Relative to their uncontrolled emission rates, which range roughly between 0.6 and 1.0 pounds per million Btu, they are required to make reductions between 25 percent and 50 percent to meet the Phase I limits and further reductions to meet the Phase II limits. All new fossil units are required to meet current standards. In pounds per million Btu, these limits are 0.11 for conventional coal, 0.02 for advanced coal, 0.02 for combined cycle and 0.08 for combustion turbines.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) were finalized in December 2011 to fulfill EPA’s requirement to regulate mercury emissions from power plants. MATS also regulate other hazardous air pollutants (HAPS) such as hydrogen chloride (HCl) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). MATS applies to coal and oil-fired power plants with a nameplate capacity greater than 25 megawatts. The standards were scheduled to take effect in 2015 but allow for a one-year waiver to comply. They also require all qualifying units to achieve the maximum achievable control technology (MACT) for each of the three covered pollutants. All power plants are required to reduce their mercury emissions to 90 percent below their uncontrolled emissions levels. When plants alter their configuration by adding equipment such as a Select Catalytic Reduction to remove NOx or an SO2 scrubber, removal of mercury is often a resulting co-benefit. Plants can also add activated carbon injection systems specifically designed to remove mercury. Activated carbon can be injected in front of existing particulate control devices or a supplemental fabric filter can be added with activated carbon injection capability.

Coal Industry Emissions Reduction

Of the 266,620 megawatts of coal-fired capacity reporting their control technologies to the Energy Information Administration in 2016, 81 percent (215,438 megawatts) have flue gas desulfurization equipment (scrubbers), 82 percent (219,745 megawatts) have electrostatic precipitators, 36 percent (96,258) have fabric filters (baghouses), 68 percent (182,175 megawatts) have select catalytic reduction systems, 54 percent (145,050 megawatts) have advanced carbon injection systems, and 9 percent (24,989 megawatts) have direct sorbent injection systems. [ix]

The following graph compares SO2 and NOx emissions from coal-fired power plants from 1990 to 2015. Between 1990 and 2015, SO2 emissions from coal-fired plants were reduced by 85 percent and NOx emissions were reduced by 84 percent.

Source: Energy Information Administration

A study by the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) compared the emission rates from pulverized coal plants and integrated gasification combined cycle plants based on environmental regulations to control sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx), mercury (Hg), particulate matter (PM) and carbon dioxide (CO2) at a greenfield site, assuming capacity factors of 85 percent, which would require the plants to be at the top of the dispatch order. Mercury, SO2, NOx and PM are controlled with dry sorbent injection (DSI) and activated carbon injection (ACI); wet flue gas desulfurization (FGD), low NOx burners (LNB) and selective catalytic reduction (SCR) and a baghouse, respectively. All of the power plant configurations with carbon capture are designed to achieve 90 percent capture, resulting in atmospheric CO2 emissions far below the proposed EPA regulation. Integrated gasification units have lower levels of emissions than pulverized coal plants.

Source: NETL

According to NETL, for a new pulverized coal plant (subcritical), pollution controls reduce NOx emissions 83 percent, SO2 emissions by 98 percent and PM by 99.8 percent when compared with a similar plant with no pollution controls. The target emission level for NOx is 0.085 lb/MMBtu, for SO2 is 0.085 lb/MMBtu, and for PM is 0.011 lb/MMBtu.[x] Without control technologies, a subcritical coal plant would emit 0.5 lb/MMBtu of NOx, 4.35 lb/MM Btu of SO2, and 6.5 lb/MM Btu of PM. The figure below graphically depicts the criteria pollutants from a new controlled plant vs. a new uncontrolled plant.

Source: NETL

Cost Factors in Emission Reductions

According to the EIA, the costs of adding flue gas desulfurization (FGD) equipment to remove sulfur dioxide, in 2015 dollars, range from $952 per kilowatt for a unit less than 100 megawatts to $417 a kilowatt for a unit 700 megawatts or larger. The costs for selective catalytic reduction (SCR) equipment to remove nitrogen oxides range from $424 per kilowatt for a unit less than 100 megawatts to $193 per kilowatt for a unit that is 700 megawatts or larger. The costs for fabric filters (FF) range from $274 per kilowatt for a unit less than 100 megawatts to $141 per kilowatt for a unit that is 700 megawatts or larger. The costs for direct sorbent injection (DSI) range from $196 per kilowatt for a unit that is less than 100 megawatts to $30 per kilowatt for a unit that is 700 megawatts or larger. The costs per megawatt of capacity decline with plant size.  FGD units are assumed to remove 95 percent of the SO2 and SCR units are assumed to remove 90 percent of the NOx. DSI units remove 70 percent of SO2, but DSI is available only under MATS as its primary function is to remove hydrogen chloride. [xi] (See table below.) 

 

Coal Plant Retrofit Costs

Source: EIA

The NETL study provides estimates of both the capital cost and the levelized cost of these technologies, which are given in the table below in 2011 dollars. The levelized cost is the present value of the total cost of building and operating the plant over its economic life, converted to equal annual payments. The plant costs range from $1,960 to $2,026 per kilowatt for a 550 megawatt coal plant and $685 per kilowatt for a 630 megawatt natural gas combined cycle plant. The levelized plant cost was computed using the following fuel prices: $2.94/MMBtu for coal and $6.13/MMBtu for natural gas. The levelized coal plant costs are about 8.2 cents per kWh and for natural gas combined cycle 5.76 cents per kWh.

Source: NETL

Coal-fired electricity generation is far cleaner today than ever before. The popular misconception that our air quality is getting worse is wrong, as shown by EPA’s data.[xii] Modern coal plants, and those retrofitted with modern technologies to reduce pollution, are a success story and are currently providing about 30 percent of our electricity. Undoubtedly, pollution emissions from coal-fired power plants will continue to fall as technology improves.

Cap-and-Trade: “Acid Rain” versus Greenhouse Gases

The results of using a cap-and-trade system to fight “acid rain” have led some to argue that it is a model for efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. But the analogy fails. Stark differences exist between the “acid rain” emission-reduction program and the challenge of reducing carbon dioxide, a natural byproduct of combustion, emitted by natural and man-made sources.

Carbon dioxide is emitted in the U.S. by hundreds of millions of sources, including every personal automobile, the appliances many of us use to cook our food and heat our homes and the businesses upon which we depend for our livelihoods, to name a few. The “acid rain” emission reduction program was initially limited to 110 site-specific utility plants, and then later expanded to 445 plants.[xiii] In addition, carbon dioxide is a world-wide byproduct of combustion, whereas all criteria pollutants are local or regional. In other words, what the United States did for SO2 and NOx directly affected air quality here, while national action to limit carbon dioxide emissions will have little bearing on aggregate global emissions.

Furthermore, at the time of the SO2 and NOx reduction program, alternative low sulfur coal sources existed and utilities had available affordable and proven technologies to utilities to reduce their emissions. When Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, coal-fired utilities could responsibly reduce emissions from their plants using various options that limited cost impacts to the consumer.

In addition, attempts to extrapolate the “acid rain” success story to the challenge of reducing carbon dioxide emissions fail to recognize the history of similar programs in other parts of the world. For example, the “Emissions Trading Scheme” of the European Union has been ineffective at reducing carbon dioxide emissions at the same time it has increased prices and harmed businesses and consumers.[xiv] Further, the EU program has enriched some companies and industries at the expense of consumers.

A recent study by Laurie Williams and Allen Zabel, career employees of the Environmental Protection Agency, makes these points about what the authors call the “Acid Rain Myth.”[xv] As the authors explain, those who champion the use of cap-and-trade to address global warming ignore the crucial distinctions between the issues we faced in 1990 with acid rain and the issues we face today with global warming.

The following highlights Williams and Zabel’s study demonstrate that the experience of the acid rain program cannot and should not be compared to cap and trade for greenhouse gas emissions:

  • “Most importantly, the success of the Acid Rain program did not depend on replacing the vast majority of our existing energy infrastructure with new infrastructure in a relatively short time. Nor did it depend on spurring major innovation. Rather, the Acid Rain program was successful as a mechanism to guide existing facilities to undertake a fuel switch to a readily available substitute, the low sulfur coal in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.”
  • “The goal of the Acid Rain program was to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions, while keeping the cost of energy from coal low. To be effective, climate change legislation must do the opposite; it must gradually increase the relative price of energy from coal and other fossil fuels to create the appropriate incentives for both conservation and the scale-up of clean energy.”
  • “Further, the Acid Rain program did not allow any outside offsets and so provides no basis for the widespread assumption that an offset program will help with climate change. In addition, the success of the program was aided by the low, competitive price of low-sulfur coal.”
  • “According to Professor Don Munton, author of ‘Dispelling the Myths of the Acid Rain Story’ the impact of the program has been overstated: The potential for a massive switch to low sulfur coal was no secret. Such coal was cheap and available, and it became cheaper and more available throughout the 1980s. Indeed, low-sulfur coal became very competitive with high-sulfur supplied well before the Clean Air Act became law.”

Conclusion

Coal remains an economically vital component of the U.S. and world energy market. Coal-fired electricity is now an environmental product, utilizing the latest technology to control each of its major criteria pollutants. The aspersion that coal is the “dirtiest fossil fuel” masks this reality.

In many parts of the world, the major environmental opportunity is to clean-up existing coal plants and build new plants using modern emission-control technology. The false choice is to close plants (or not build them) in favor of intermittent renewables.

The U.S. success story is a model for the Third World. The mechanisms available to reduce pollutants allow for more generation of energy with less pollution. But this success cannot be extrapolated to the regulation and reduction of carbon dioxide, a much more challenging undertaking. None of the conditions existing at the time of the apparent success of the SO2 and NOx reduction program apply to carbon dioxide. The challenges presented by the control and regulation of carbon dioxide have no parallels in the history of emission regulation.


[i] Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review, https://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/monthly/pdf/sec7_5.pdf

[ii] Energy Information Administration, https://www.eia.gov/electricity/data.php#elecenv

[iii] Environmental Protection Agency, https://gispub.epa.gov/air/trendsreport/2017/#growth_w_cleaner_air

[iv] Wikipedia, Prairie State Energy Campus, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prairie_State_Energy_Campus

[v] Prairie State Energy Campus, http://www.prairiestateenergycampus.com/

[vi] BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2017, https://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/energy-economics/statistical-review-of-world-energy/downloads.html

[vii] Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2017, Tables H12 and H15, https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/ieo/ieo_tables.php

[viii] Energy Information Administration, Electricity Market Module, https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/assumptions/pdf/electricity.pdf

[ix] Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Annual, Table 9.2, https://www.eia.gov/electricity/data.php#elecenv

[x] National Energy Technology Laboratory, Cost and Performance Baseline for Fossil Energy Plants, July 31, 2015, https://www.netl.doe.gov/energy-analyses/temp/CostandPerformanceBaselineforFEPlantsVol1bBitCoalIGCCtoElecRev2bYearDollarUpdate_073115.pdf

[xi] Energy Information Administration, Assumptions to the Electricity Market Module for Annual Energy Outlook 2017, https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/assumptions/pdf/electricity.pdf

[xii] Environmental Protection Agency, https://gispub.epa.gov/air/trendsreport/2017/#growth_w_cleaner_air

[xiii] Kenneth P. Green et. al, Climate Change: Caps vs. Taxes, American Enterprise Institute, (June 2007) http://www.aei.org/publication/climate-change-caps-vs-taxes/

[xiv] See European Union, Emissions trading: 2007 verified emissions from EU ETS businesses, May 23, 2008, http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/08/787&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

[xv] Keeping Our Eyes on the Wrong Ball, 2/21/09, http://www.carbonfees.org/home/Cap-and-TradeVsCarbonFees.pdf

 

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