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We learned a lot about the different types of energy sources and the sustainability challenges involved. Based on your understanding of these issues, explain which renewable energy source you think has the greatest potential to solve our energy needs.

We learned a lot about the different types of energy sources and the sustainability challenges involved.
Based on your understanding of these issues, explain which renewable energy source you think has the
greatest potential to solve our energy needs. Be sure to consider the source’s advantages and
disadvantages compared to fossil fuels in terms of environmental pollution, geographic availability,
variability & intermittency, efficiency, cost, and use by the residential, industrial, commercial,
transportation, and electric power sectors. Support your choice with details from our textbook and
reliable external sources.
Additionally, review the current U.S. energy data. How heavily does the United States and your home
State currently rely on this energy source? What is it primarily used for (i.e., for which sector is it mostly
used)? What about your electricity usage, which you have explored in the Week 4 – Eco Moment
(Monthly Electricity Usage and Cost)?
As always, write a detailed main post here, presenting supporting facts and evidence from reliable
sources. When responding to your classmates, please add to the discussion with a fact-supported
addition, opinion, gentle correction, or example, citing reliable sources.
Fossil Fuels: The Dirty Facts
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Fossil Fuels: The Dirty Facts
Jump to Section
What Are Fossil Fuels?
Examples of Fossil Fuels
Disadvantages of Fossil Fuels
Burning Fossil Fuels
Building a Clean Energy Future
Sakhorn Saengtongsamarnsin/123RF
For more than a century, burning fossil fuels has generated most of the energy required to propel our cars,
power our businesses, and keep the lights on in our homes. Even today, oil, coal, and gas provide for about 80
percent of our energy needs.
And we’re paying the price. Using fossil fuels for energy has exacted an enormous toll on humanity and the
environment—from air and water pollution to global warming. That’s beyond all the negative impacts from
petroleum-based products such as plastics and chemicals. Here’s a look at what fossil fuels are, what they cost
us (beyond the wallet), and why it’s time to move toward a clean energy future.
What Are Fossil Fuels?
Coal, crude oil, and natural gas are all considered fossil fuels because they were formed from the fossilized,
buried remains of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. Because of their origins, fossil fuels have
a high carbon content.
Examples of Fossil Fuels
Crude oil, or petroleum (literally “rock oil” in Latin), is a liquid fossil fuel made up mostly of hydrocarbons
(hydrogen and carbon compounds). Oil can be found in underground reservoirs; in the cracks, crevices, and
pores of sedimentary rock; or in tar sands near the earth’s surface. It’s accessed by drilling, on land or at sea, or
by strip mining in the case of tar sands oil and oil shale. Once extracted, oil is transported to refineries via
supertanker, train, truck, or pipeline to be transformed into usable fuels such as gasoline, propane, kerosene,
and jet fuel—as well as products such as plastics and paint.
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Fossil Fuels: The Dirty Facts
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Petroleum products supply about 37 percent of U.S. energy needs, with the transportation sector consuming
the most. U.S. oil consumption in 2016 was 10 percent below the record high of 2005 and only 3 percent
higher than during the 1973–74 embargo by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)
—despite the U.S. economy tripling in size in the decades since. However, oil use has increased modestly for
the past four years, as relatively low gasoline prices have fueled a rise in vehicle miles traveled and renewed
interest in SUVs and light trucks. Still, U.S. consumption of petroleum products is forecast to decrease, at least
through 2035, as fuel efficiency standards lead to cleaner-running vehicles. Continued strengthening of clean
car and fuel economy standards remains critical for reducing oil consumption.
On the production side, the United States has experienced a decadelong upswing. Production growth is due in
large part to improvements in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, technologies that have created a
boom in U.S. shale oil and natural gas extraction. While horizontal drilling enables producers to drill down and
outward—thus reaching more oil or gas from a single well—hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking) is
designed to extract oil or natural gas from unyielding rock, including shale and other formations. Fracking
involves blasting huge quantities of water mixed with chemicals and sand deep into a well, at pressures high
enough to fracture rock and enable the oil or gas to escape. This controversial method of extraction creates a
host of environmental and health problems, including air and water pollution.
Coal is a solid, carbon-heavy rock that comes in four main varieties differentiated largely by carbon content:
lignite, sub-bituminous, bituminous, and anthracite. Nearly all of the coal burned in the United States is subbituminous or bituminous. Found in abundance in states including Wyoming, West Virginia, Kentucky, and
Pennsylvania, these coal types are middle of the pack in terms of carbon content and the heat energy they can
produce. Regardless of variety, however, all coal is dirty. Indeed, in terms of emissions, it’s the most carbonintensive fossil fuel we can burn.
Coal is extracted via two methods: Underground mining uses heavy machinery to cut coal from deep
underground deposits, while surface mining (also known as strip mining) removes entire layers of soil and
rock to access coal deposits below. Strip mining accounts for about two-thirds of coal sourced in the United
States. Although both forms of mining are detrimental to the environment, strip mining is particularly
destructive, uprooting and polluting entire ecosystems.
Coal and the power plants that burn it account for less than a third of U.S. electricity generation, down from
more than half in 2008. Cleaner, cheaper alternatives—including natural gas, renewables like solar and wind,
and energy-efficient technologies—make coal far less economically attractive. Today, coal-fired power plants
continue to close, despite the Trump administration’s promises of a revived industry. Future demand for coal
is expected to remain flat or to fall as market forces propel alternative energy sources forward.
Natural gas
Composed mostly of methane, natural gas is generally considered either conventional or unconventional,
depending on where it’s found underground. Conventional natural gas is located in porous and permeable rock
beds or mixed into oil reservoirs and can be accessed via standard drilling. Unconventional natural gas is
essentially any form of gas that is too difficult or expensive to extract via regular drilling, requiring a special
stimulation technique, such as fracking.
In the United States, the development and refinement of processes like fracking have helped make the country
the world’s top producer of natural gas since 2009—and the biggest consumer of it, too. Abundant in the
United States, natural gas covers nearly 30 percent of U.S. energy needs and is the largest source of energy for
electricity. Forecasts suggest it will become an even greater part of the U.S. energy mix through 2050,
threatening to exacerbate air and water pollution.
Disadvantages of Fossil Fuels
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Fossil Fuels: The Dirty Facts
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Suncor Mine and tailings ponds near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada
Aaron Huey/National Geographic/Getty Images
Land degradation
Unearthing, processing, and moving underground oil, gas, and coal deposits take an enormous toll on our
landscapes and ecosystems. The fossil fuel industry leases vast stretches of land for infrastructure such as
wells, pipelines, access roads, as well as facilities for processing, waste storage, and waste disposal. In the case
of strip mining, entire swaths of terrain—including forests and whole mountaintops—are scraped and blasted
away to expose underground coal or oil. Even after operations cease, the nutrient-leached land will never
return to what it once was.
As a result, critical wildlife habitat—land crucial for breeding and migration—ends up fragmented and
destroyed. Even animals able to leave can end up suffering, as they’re often forced into less-than-ideal habitat
and must compete with existing wildlife for resources.
Water pollution
Coal, oil, and gas development pose myriad threats to our waterways and groundwater. Coal mining
operations wash acid runoff into streams, rivers, and lakes and dump vast quantities of unwanted rock and soil
into streams. Oil spills and leaks during extraction or transport can pollute drinking water sources and
jeopardize entire freshwater or ocean ecosystems. Fracking and its toxic fluids have also been found to
contaminate drinking water, a fact that the Environmental Protection Agency was slow to recognize.
Meanwhile, all drilling, fracking, and mining operations generate enormous volumes of wastewater, which can
be laden with heavy metals, radioactive materials, and other pollutants. Industries store this waste in open-air
pits or underground wells that can leak or overflow into waterways and contaminate aquifers with pollutants
linked to cancer, birth defects, neurological damage, and much more.
Fossil fuels emit harmful air pollutants long before they’re burned. Indeed, some 12.6 million Americans are
exposed daily to toxic air pollution from active oil and gas wells and from transport and processing facilities.
These include benzene (linked to childhood leukemia and blood disorders) and formaldehyde (a cancercausing chemical). A booming fracking industry will bring that pollution to more backyards, despite mounting
evidence of the practice’s serious health impacts. Mining operations are no better, especially for the miners
themselves, generating toxic airborne particulate matter. Strip mining—particularly in places such as Canada’s
boreal forest—can release giant carbon stores held naturally in the wild.
Burning Fossil Fuels
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Fossil Fuels: The Dirty Facts
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Global warming pollution
When we burn oil, coal, and gas, we don’t just meet our energy needs—we drive the current global warming
crisis as well. Fossil fuels produce large quantities of carbon dioxide when burned. Carbon emissions trap heat
in the atmosphere and lead to climate change. In the United States, the burning of fossil fuels, particularly for
the power and transportation sectors, accounts for about three-quarters of our carbon emissions.
Other forms of air pollution
Fossil fuels emit more than just carbon dioxide when burned. Coal-fired power plants singlehandedly generate
42 percent of dangerous mercury emissions in the United States, as well as two-thirds of U.S. sulfur dioxide
emissions (which contribute to acid rain) and the vast majority of soot (particulate matter) in our air.
Meanwhile, fossil fuel–powered cars, trucks, and boats are the main contributors of poisonous carbon
monoxide and nitrogen oxide, which produces smog (and respiratory illnesses) on hot days.
The Syncrude Canada Mildred Lake Oil Sands project plant near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada
Larry MacDougal/AP
Ocean acidification
When we burn oil, coal, and gas, we change the ocean’s basic chemistry, making it more acidic. Our seas
absorb as much as a quarter of all man-made carbon emissions. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution
(and our coal-burning ways), the ocean has become 30 percent more acidic. As the acidity in our waters goes
up, the amount of calcium carbonate—a substance used by oysters, lobsters, and countless other marine
organisms to form shells—goes down. This can slow growth rates, weaken shells, and imperil entire food
Ocean acidification impacts coastal communities as well. In the Pacific Northwest, it’s estimated to have cost
the oyster industry millions of dollars and thousands of jobs.
Building a Clean Energy Future
We’re not locked into a fossil fuel future, however. We’ve made major progress in scaling up renewable energy
and energy efficiency in the United States over the past decade, thanks to federal, state, and local policies that
have helped to grow the clean energy economy. We’re also using energy much more efficiently than we used to.
State and federal incentives, along with falling prices, are pushing our nation—and the world—toward cleaner,
renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Renewables are on track to become a cheaper source of
energy than fossil fuels, which is spurring a boom in clean energy development and jobs. Significantly higher
levels of renewables can be integrated into our existing grid, though care must be taken to site and build
renewable energy responsibly.
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Meanwhile, energy efficiency is our cleanest, cheapest, and largest energy resource, contributing more to the
nation’s energy needs over the past 40 years than oil, coal, natural gas, or nuclear power. It accounts for more
than 2.2 million U.S. jobs—at least 10 times more than oil and gas drilling or coal mining.
If we can put the right policies in place, we are poised to make dramatic progress toward a clean energy future.
In fact, a recent NRDC report finds that we can slash U.S. fossil fuel use by 80 percent by 2050. To do that, we
will need to cut energy demand in half, grow renewable energy resources so that they provide at least 80
percent of our power, electrify almost all forms of transportation, and get fossil fuels out of our buildings. That
will require sustained, coordinated policy efforts from all levels of government, the private sector, and local
communities. But we know we can do it using the proven, demonstrated clean energy technologies that we
have today.
10/13/2019, 9:35 AM
Fossil Fuel Subsidies: A Closer Look at Tax Breaks and Societal Costs
July 2019
There is a long history of government intervention in energy markets. Numerous energy subsidies exist in the U.S.
tax code to promote or subsidize the production of cheap and abundant fossil energy. Some of these subsidies have
been around for a century, and while the United States has enjoyed unparalleled economic growth over the past
100 years—thanks in no small part to cheap energy—in many cases, the circumstances relevant at the time
subsidies were implemented no longer exist. Today, the domestic fossil fuel industries (namely, coal, oil and natural
gas) are mature and generally highly profitable. Additionally, numerous clean and renewable alternatives exist,
which have become increasingly price-competitive with traditional fossil fuels.
The 116th Congress is weighing potential policy mechanisms to reduce the impact of climate change and cap global
warming to an internationally agreed upon target of no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). As a
result, fossil fuel tax subsidies, as well as other mechanisms of support, have received additional scrutiny from
lawmakers and the public regarding their current suitability, scale and effectiveness. Indeed, the subsidies
undermine policy goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.
The United States provides a number of tax subsidies to the fossil fuel
industry as a means of encouraging domestic energy production. These
include both direct subsidies to corporations, as well as other tax benefits
to the fossil fuel industry. Conservative estimates put U.S. direct subsidies
to the fossil fuel industry at roughly $20 billion per year; with 20 percent
currently allocated to coal and 80 percent to natural gas and crude oil.1
European Union subsidies are estimated to total 55 billion euros annually.2
A recent analysis published in Nature
Energy found that continuing current
fossil fuel subsidies would make it
profitable to extract half of all
domestic oil reserves. This could
increase U.S. oil production by 17
billion barrels over the next few
Historically, subsidies granted to the fossil fuel industry were designed to decades and emit an additional 6
lower the cost of fossil fuel production and incentivize new domestic energy billion tons of carbon dioxide.
sources.3 Today, U.S. taxpayer dollars continue to fund many fossil fuel
subsidies that are outdated, but remain embedded within the tax code. At a time when renewable energy
technology is increasingly cost-competitive with fossil power generation, and a coordinated strategy must be
developed to mitigate climate change, the broader utility of fossil fuel subsidies is being questioned.
There are many kinds of costs associated with fossil fuel use in the form of greenhouse gas emissions and other
pollution resulting from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. These negative externalities have adverse
environmental, climate, and public health impacts, and are estimated to have totaled $5.3 trillion globally in 2015
Subsidizing an industry with such large, negative impacts is difficult to justify. Public subsidies should be consistent
with an overarching, coordinated, and coherent energy policy that not only considers the supply of affordable,
reliable power, but also public health impacts, climate change, and environmental degradation. While both
Democratic and Republican administrations and lawmakers have discussed repealing fossil fuel subsidies, no
significant action has been taken to-date.
Several international institutions, including the G20,5 the International Energy Agency,6 and the Organization of
Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD),7 have called for the phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies. The
European Union has also called for such a phase-out but has not yet taken concrete actions.
But rather than being phased out, fossil fuel subsidies are actually increasing. The latest International Monetary
Fund (IMF) report estimates 6.5 percent of global GDP ($5.2 trillion) was spent on fossil fuel subsidies in 2017, a half
trillion dollar increase since 2015. The largest subsidizers are China ($1.4 trillion in 2015), the United States ($649
billion) and Russia ($551 billion).8 According to the IMF, “fossil fuels account for 85 percent of all global subsidies,”
and reducing these subsidies “would have lowered global carbon emissions by 28 percent and fossil fuel air pollution
deaths by 46 percent, and increased government revenue by 3.8 percent of GDP.”9 An Overseas Development
Institute study found that subsidies for coal-fired power increased almost three-fold, to $47.3 billion per year, from
2014 to 2017.10
U.S. Tax Subsidies to the Fossil Fuel Industry
The federal government provides numerous subsidies, both direct and indirect, to the fossil fuel industry. Special
provisions in the U.S. tax code designed to specifically support and reward domestic fossil fuel‐related production
are direct subsidies. Other provisions in the tax code aimed at businesses in general create indirect subsidies that
are not exclusive to the fossil fuels industry. In certain cases, quantifying these subsidies is fairly simple. In the case
of indirect subsidies, establishing an amount associated with these subsidies is more challenging. While not covered
in this fact sheet, another source of federal aid to the fossil fuel industry is the discounted cost of leasing federal
lands for fossil fuel extraction. Some fossil fuel subsidies provide public assistance, such as the Low Income Home
Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which assists low-income households with heating costs.
In May 2019, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) published a report detailing an internationally accepted
methodology that will help countries make their fossil fuel subsidies more transparent.11
Direct Subsidies_
Intangible Drilling Costs Deduction (26 U.S. Code § 263. Active). This provision allows companies to deduct a
majority of the costs incurred from drilling new wells domestically. In its analysis of President Trump’s Fiscal Year
2017 Budget Proposal, the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) estimated that eliminating tax breaks for intangible
drilling costs would generate $1.59 billion in revenue in 2017, or $13 billion in the next ten years.12
Percentage Depletion (26 U.S. Code § 613. Active). Depletion is an accounting method that works much like
depreciation, allowing businesses to deduct a certain amount from their taxable income as a reflection of declining
production from a reserve over time. However, with standard cost depletion, if a firm were to extract 10 percent of
recoverable oil from a property, the depletion expense would be ten percent of capital costs. In contrast,
percentage depletion allows firms to deduct a set percentage from their taxable income. Because percentage
depletion is not based on capital costs, total deductions can exceed capital costs. This provision is limited to
independent producers and royalty owners. In its analysis of the President’s Fiscal Year 2017 Budget Proposal, the
JCT estimated that eliminating percentage depletion for coal, oil and natural gas would generate $12.9 billion in the
next ten years.12
Credit for Clean Coal Investment Internal Revenue Code § 48A (Active) and 48B (Inactive). These subsidies create
a series of tax credits for energy investments, particularly for coal. In 2005, Congress authorized $1.5 billion in
credits for integrated gasification combined cycle properties, with $800 million of this amount reserved specifically
for coal projects. In 2008, additional incentives for carbon sequestration were added to IRC § 48B and 48A. These
included 30 percent investment credits, which were made available for gasification projects that sequester 75
percent of carbon emissions, as well as advanced coal projects that sequester 65 percent of carbon emissions.13
Eliminating credits for investment in these projects would save $1 billion between 2017 and 2026.14
Nonconventional Fuels Tax Credit (Internal Revenue Code § 45. Inactive). Sunsetted in 2014, this tax credit was
created by the Crude Oil Windfall Profit Tax Act of 1980 to promote domestic energy production and reduce
dependence on foreign oil. Although amendments to the act limited the list of qualifying fuel sources, this credit
provided $12.2 billion to the coal industry from 2002-2010.13
Indirect Subsidies_
Last In, First Out Accounting (26 U.S. Code § 472. Active). The Last In, First Out accounting method (LIFO) allows oil
and gas companies to sell the fuel most recently added to their reserves first, as opposed to selling older reserves
first under the traditional First In, First Out (FIFO) method. This allows the most expensive reserves to be sold first,
reducing the value of their inventory for taxation purposes.
Foreign Tax Credit (26 U.S. Code § 901. Active). Typically, when firms operating in foreign countries pay royalties
abroad they can deduct these expenses from their taxable income. Instead of claiming royalty payments as
deductions, oil and gas companies are able to treat them as fully deductible foreign income tax. In 2016, the JCT
estimated that closing this loophole for all American businesses operating in countries that do not tax corporate
income would generate $12.7 billion in tax revenue over the course of the following decade.12
Master Limited Partnerships (Internal Revenue Code § 7704. Indirect. Active). Many oil and gas companies are
structured as Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs). This structure combines the investment advantages of publicly
traded corporations with the tax benefits of partnerships. While shareholders still pay personal income tax, the MLP
itself is exempt from corporate income taxes. More than three-quarters of MLPs are fossil fuel companies.15 This
provision is not available to renewable energy companies.
Domestic Manufacturing Deduction (IRC §199. Indirect. Inactive). Put in place in 2004, this subsidy supported a
range of companies by decreasing their effective corporate tax rate. While this deduction was available to domestic
manufacturers, it nevertheless benefitted fossil fuel companies by allowing “oil producers to claim a tax break
intended for U.S. manufacturers to prevent job outsourcing”.16 The Office of Management and Budget estimated
that repealing this deduction for coal and other hard mineral fossil fuels would have saved $173 million between
2012 and 2016. This subsidy was repealed by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (P.L. 115 – 97) starting fiscal year 2018. 17
Recent Efforts to Reform and Repeal Fossil Fuel Subsidies in Congress
Clean Energy for America Act (S. 1288): Introduced in May 2019 and
sponsored by Senator Wyden (D-OR), S.1288 amends the Internal Revenue
Code to replace the 44 existing energy tax credits with three technology
neutral tax provisions that would incentivize the use of low and zeroemissions technologies, including clean electricity, clean transportation and
energy efficiency. The bill is cosponsored by 25 Democrats.
“Let’s look at the oil and gas
subsidies, let’s take them away.
Let’s let them compete just like
everyone else at the same
level. We can do that with the
tax code to take those special
provisions away.”
Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI)
Financing Our Energy Future Act (S. 1841): Formerly the MLP Parity Act, S.1841 has been reintroduced in the
116th Congress and allows renewable energy firms to benefit from the MLP structure by expanding the types of
energy generation that qualify. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Christopher Coons (D-DE) and cosponsored by six
Republicans, four Democrats and an Independent, has broad appeal and does not prevent fossil fuel companies
from continuing to structure as MLPs.
Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act (H.R. 3671): Introduced by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) in the 115th Congress,
H.R. 3671 amends several sections of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to eliminate subsidies aimed specifically
at the fossil fuel industry. The bill had 45 Democratic cosponsors.
Fossil Fuel Research, Development, and Deployment
The fossil fuel industry receives substantial government funding for research and development. Federal funding for
fossil fuels is largely administered by the Department of Energy (DOE) through three initiatives: the Office of
Advanced Fossil Energy R&D, the Loan Guarantee Program, and the National Energy Technology Lab. Annual
appropriations and grants directed toward the fossil fuel industry can also be considered direct subsidies, as they
are directly related to maintaining the competitiveness of the industry. Efforts to make coal more economical and
cleaner—despite declining natural gas and renewable energy prices—have been a particular focus of the federal
government’s funding, as has Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). CCS technologies capture carbon dioxide from
power and industrial sectors and store it deep underground in geological formations, or turn it into useable products,
such as fuels or chemicals.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Inactive). The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
was an economic stimulus package of $787 billion. As part of this package, the Office of Fossil Energy received $3.4
billion toward fossil fuel research and development between 2009 and 2011. The funds primarily supported R&D
of carbon capture and storage technologies.18
DOE Advanced Fossil Loan Programs Office (Active). The Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office (DOE LPO)
was created in 2005 to provide loans to innovative energy, tribal energy, and advanced auto manufacturing projects.
While the DOE LPO is primarily focused on financing first-of-kind renewable and efficiency technologies, it has also
designated $8 billion for loans to advanced fossil fuel projects that aim to avoid or sequester greenhouse gases.
Originally, the program was aimed solely at coal technologies and was later expanded to include any fossil fuel. The
first two loan solicitations did not result in any loan guarantees, largely because falling natural gas prices have made
new coal projects uneconomical.
In December 2016, the LPO made its first fossil award to the Lake Charles Methanol Project, which received an
initial commitment of $2 billion. The project would have produced methanol from the gasification of petcoke, a
product of petroleum refining. However, projected costs increased following tariffs on Chinese imports, and the
project has stalled. As of September 2018, construction had not begun.19,20
DOE Fossil Energy Research & Development Office
(Active). Historically, DOE’s advanced fossil energy
R&D focused on reducing harmful emissions from
coal-fired power plants, such as those responsible
for acid rain. Today, the office is focused on
advanced power generation, power plant
efficiency, water management, and carbon capture
and storage technologies (CCS), as well as the
development of unconventional oil and gas
DOE Office of Fossil Energy R&D FY2019 Funding
Select Examples
Coal Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) $25 million
and Power Systems
Carbon Storage (CCS retrofits at coal
$30 million
and natural gas facilities)
Advanced Energy Systems: efficiency,
$37 million
reliability & flexible operations
National Energy Technology Laboratory $18 million
Coal Research and Development
Unconventional Fossil Energy
$13.5 million
Technologies (unconventional gas & oil)
In examining DOE’s fossil energy portfolio, the
dollars directed towards preserving coal as a viable
power source warrant closer examination. Between 2010 and 2017, the Department of Energy provided $2.66
billion to support 794 advanced fossil energy research and development projects: 785 of these were R&D projects,
and the remaining nine were demonstration projects to evaluate the commercial readiness of carbon capture and
storage technologies, mostly for coal. These projects received between $13 million and $284 million. Of the 785
remaining projects, 89 percent focused on coal research and development, including for coal gasification, where
coal is converted to synthesis gas (“syngas”) that may be used for generating electricity and other purposes.19 During
this same seven-year period, 91 percent of total fossil R&D money ($1.4 billion) was spent on coal-related
research. For fiscal year 2019, Congress appropriated $740 million for Fossil Energy Research and Development,
with continued emphasis on the continued use of coal-fired power.
Coal-Fired Power & Carbon Dioxide Removal
There is a scientific consensus that carbon dioxide removal technologies, such as
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and Direct Air Capture (DAC), will be required
to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of CO2 over the coming decades. The
majority of 1.5°C and even 2°C warming scenarios, as reported by the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), rely heavily on such carbon
dioxide utilization and storage (CCUS) strategies to manage atmospheric
concentrations of CO2.
Despite significant federal
investment, Carbon Capture
and Storage technology is
unlikely to sustain the
domestic use of coal power.
However, CCS technologies are still not widely commercialized. In the United States, there are only 10 carbon
capture facilities, and only one of these is at a coal plant.21 Given both the current negative economics of coal for
power generation, and the energy intensity of carbon capture and storage, CCS is very unlikely to sustain the
domestic use of coal power. Instead, the most promising avenues for CCS applications include energy-intensive
industrial sectors, direct air capture of CO2, carbon utilization, and carbon capture in natural gas power plants. To
reach ambitious climate targets as quickly and cost-effectively as possible, phasing out coal’s use as a source of
energy will remain necessary.22
Financing Fossil Fuel Projects Abroad
In addition to research and development projects funded through Department of Energy programs, the fossil fuel
industry receives federal funding in the form of project loans, grants, and guarantees from the Overseas Private
Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the United States Export-Import Bank (EXIM). These sources of funding are
meant to provide capital and fiscal security for investments in emerging markets overseas, but in many cases serve
to subsidize the expansion of the mature and highly profitable fossil fuel industry. This can result in increased
greenhouse gas emissions from projects in countries with weaker environmental regulations.
Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). OPIC is the U.S. Government’s development finance institution,
which supports American businesses in emerging markets abroad. OPIC provides “investors with financing, political
risk insurance, and support for private equity funds.”23 Between 2010 and 2015, OPIC committed more than $6
billion in financing to renewable energy projects, and in 2008 set a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from
new projects by 50 percent by 2023.24 While OPIC has dramatically increased its funding for renewable energy
projects, it continues to support fossil energy, as well. Some examples of OPIC funded projects include:
ï‚· The revitalization of the aging Palagua oil field in Colombia. In 2004, OPIC gave a $3.8 million loan to Joshi
Technologies to support this project, which enabled the company to extract more than 4,000 barrels of oil
per day for over a decade.25
ï‚· In 2017, OPIC committed $250 million for a natural gas project in Jordan, which is expected to emit the
equivalent of 617,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year.26
ï‚· In 2018, Kosovo government officials sought out OPIC to help them finance a new coal-fired power plant
that had lost its loan guarantee from the World Bank, after the Bank chose to halt financing for new coal
United States Export-Import Bank (EXIM). EXIM is the credit agency of the United States government, providing
credit to facilitate the export of American goods and services. While President Obama’s 2013 Climate Action Plan
called for an end to government funding for overseas coal-fired power plants (with limited exceptions where no
viable alternatives exist or where CCS technology is utilized),28 EXIM continues to fund fossil energy development
overseas. Over the past 15 years, EXIM has lent or issued billions in grants to fossil fuel projects. They include:
$14.8 billion dollars in grants and loans for 78 projects in the petroleum sector (2001 – 2018).
Financing $900 million in U.S. mining exports (2010).
Lending $4.5 billion to the power sector in 2009, much of which went to the coal and petroleum sectors.29
This included the construction of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in Mozambique in 2016. The project
is estimated to produce 5.2 million tons of carbon dioxide per year.30
Externalities and Social Costs of Fossil Fuels
Ultimately, the true price of carbon and other pollutants are not reflected in the actual cost of fossil fuels and fossilderived products. Economists refer to such discrepancies as externalities. Fossil fuel externalities, including societal
costs, environmental costs, and health costs, are largely overlooked in the process of incentivizing fossil fuel
production through policy mechanisms. The undervaluation of fossil fuel externalities disproportionately affects
communities that are the most vulnerable to the health and environmental impacts of fossil fuel combustion and
extraction, namely minority and low-income populations that are more likely to live near facilities that produce high
amounts of pollutants, such as ports, airports, highways, and petrochemical refineries. Addressing fossil fuel
externalities could save taxpayers billions of dollars in societal costs and improve the health and quality of life for
many people. Below is an outline of some major costs to consider.
Social Cost of Carbon (SCC)
The Social Cost of Carbon reflects the negative societal impacts of climate change (including the spread of diseases,
decreased food security, coastal vulnerabilities, and public health costs), which is caused by manmade carbon
emissions. The SCC is used as a metric to inform federal decision-making on environmental policies, as well as a
factor to consider in cost-benefit analyses of such policies.31 A federal Interagency Working Group created an
estimate for the SCC in 2010 which considered the costs of carbon on a global scale. The Trump administration is
seeking to revalue the SCC by shifting from a global valuation to a national valuation, in which only the effects on
the lower 48 states are considered, and by altering the discount rate (used to convert future outcomes into present
dollars).32 Increasing the discount rate discounts the impacts on future generations.
Under the original framework, the SCC in 2015 was $36 per metric ton of CO2 at a 3 percent discount rate.33 This is
still viewed as a conservative estimate, since there is insufficient data to fully quantify all the externalities resulting
from global CO2 emissions. With the Trump administration’s proposed changes, that valuation falls to $6 per metric
ton (at a 3 percent discount rate) and $1 at a 7 percent discount rate.34
Health Externalities
Burning fossil fuels creates air pollutants such
as particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur
dioxide, ozone, and mercury. These pollutants
lead to health impacts including asthma, lung
disease, bronchitis, and other chronic
respiratory diseases that may lead to
premature death. Air pollutants from fossil
fuels also contribute to the development of
lung and other cancers; lung cancer accounts
for 30 percent of cancer-related deaths each
year.35 Air pollutants, such as those released
from vehicles and power plants that rely on
the combustion of fossil fuels, cause 200,000
premature deaths each year.36
Figure 1: Data from “The Health Costs of Inaction with Respect to Air Pollution,” by
Pascale Scapecchi, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,
Environmental Working Papers, No. 2.
Taking into account the coal power sector
alone, it is estimated that fine particulate matter from U.S. coal plants resulted in 13,200 deaths, 9,700
hospitalizations, and 20,000 heart attacks in 2010.37 Coal-fired power plants are also the largest source of airborne
mercury emissions in the United States. Mercury can move through the food chain and accumulate in the flesh of
fish, posing the greatest risk to pregnant women.38
Environmental Externalities
Extraction and refining of fossil fuel may result in a host of negative outcomes including landscape degradation, risk
for spills, and other unintentional environmental damage. Coal mining operations have the potential to cause
pollution across the supply chain, from extraction to burning. In the United States, coal is often extracted using
mountaintop removal and strip mining, which involves clearing the vegetation, soil, and rock above coal deposits.
This leads to permanent damage of landscapes and the creation of massive amounts of mine wastes. Strip mining
is used in roughly 65 percent of American coal production.39
After coal is burned, it leaves behind coal ash, a combustion byproduct containing heavy metals like arsenic,
mercury, and chromium, which are considered toxic. Coal ash is one of the largest sources of industrial waste in the
United States, and a 2018 analysis of industry data found that 95 percent of coal ash storage sites have
contaminated groundwater at levels deemed unsafe by the EPA.40 In the flooding that followed Hurricane Florence,
several coal ash storage sites in North Carolina overflowed or were damaged, spilling contaminated water into
surrounding areas.41
Oil spills are perhaps the best known fossil fuel-related environmental dangers. The 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill
polluted 1,300 miles of shore and cost about $2 billion to clean up. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest
ever, released 3.19 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico and cost BP (the company responsible) $61.6
billion.42 That same year, the 2010 Enbridge spill in southwest Michigan released more than 20,100 barrels of tar
sands oil into the Kalamazoo River, creating one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history.43 The ongoing Taylor
oil spill is on track to become the largest in American history, having released tens of thousands of gallons every
day into the Gulf of Mexico for more than 14 years.44
In seeking fiscal reforms that have the potential to save taxpayer dollars while simultaneously addressing
greenhouse gas emissions, phasing out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry should be a priority for federal
policymakers. These subsidies aid an industry that is mature, well-established, and with an abundant private
financing stream. Reducing the subsidies fossil fuel stakeholders receive can help correct inefficient economic
interventions into energy markets, save billions of taxpayer dollars, and reduce negative social and environmental
Authors: Clayton Coleman and Emma Dietz
Editors: Brian LaShier, Jessie Stolark, Amaury Laporte
This fact sheet is available electronically (with hyperlinks and endnotes) at www.eesi.org/papers.
The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) is a non-profit organization founded in 1984 by a bipartisan
Congressional caucus dedicated to finding innovative environmental and energy solutions. EESI works to protect the climate
and ensure a healthy, secure, and sustainable future for America through policymaker education, coalition building, and
policy development in the areas of energy efficiency, renewable energy, agriculture, forestry, transportation, buildings, and
urban planning.
“Dirty Energy Dominance: Dependent on Denial,” Oil Change International.
“Energy Prices and Costs in Europe,” European Commission.
“Long History of U.S. Energy Subsidies,” Chemical and Engineering News.
“IMF Survey: Counting the Cost of Energy Subsidies,” International Monetary Fund.
5 “The G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh Leaders’ Statement,” G20 Countries.
6 “Ending Fossil-Fuel Aid Will Cut Oil Demand, IEA Says,” Bloomberg.
7 “OECD Tells G20 Fossil Fuel Subsidies Should End,” Reuters.
“Global Fossil Fuel Subsidies Remain Large: An Update Based on Country-Level Estimates,” International Monetary Fund.
“Global Fossil Fuel Subsidies Remain Large: An Update Based on Country-Level Estimates,” International Monetary Fund.
“G20 coal subsidies: tracking government support to a fading industry,” Overseas Development Institute (ODI).
“Measuring Fossil Fuel Subsidies in the Context of the SDGs,” The UN Environment Programme (UNEP)
“JCT Estimates for Obama 2017 Proposed Budget.” www.jct.gov/publications.html?func=startdown&id=4902
“Estimating U.S. Government Spending on Coal: 2002 – 2010,” Environmental Law Institute.
“Federal Receipts,” Government Publishing Office.
“Too Big to Ignore: Subsidies to Fossil Fuel: Master Limited Partnerships,” Oil Change International and Earth Track.
“Cashing in on All of the Above: U.S. Fossil Fuel Production Subsidies under Obama,” Oil Change International.

Cashing in on All of the Above: U.S. Fossil Fuel Production Subsidies under Obama

“Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, 2017.” www.congress.gov/115/bills/hr1/BILLS-115hr1enr.pdf
“Recipient Reporting Summary by Project: For Quarter Ending Sept. 30, 2011,” U.S. Department of Energy.
“Advanced Fossil Energy: Information on DOE-Provided Funding for Research and Development Projects Started from Fiscal
Years 2010 through 2017,” U.S. Government Accountability Office. www.gao.gov/products/GAO-18-619
“Stalled Trade Talks with China Could Delay, Derail Key Methanol Project,” Louisiana Watchdog.
“Facilities Database,” Global CCS Institute. https://co2re.co/FacilityData
“Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5°C,” Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/
“Who We Are,” Overseas Private Investment Corporation. www.opic.gov/who-we-are/faqs
“Environmental and Social Policy Statement,” Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC).
“Joshi Technologies: Reviving an Aging Colombian Oil Field,” Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC).
“Information Summary for the Public – Noble Energy International Limited Project in Jordan,” OPIC.
“Kosovo Turns to US after World Bank Dumps Coal Plant,” Climate Home News.
“The President’s Climate Action Plan,” Executive Office of the President.
“Key Industries,” Export Import Bank of the United States. www.exim.gov/learning-resources/key-industries
“EXIM Pending Transactions,” Export Import Bank of the United States.
“Revisiting the Social Cost of Carbon,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Regulatory Impact Analysis for the Proposed Emission Guidelines for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Existing Electric
Utility Generating Units; Revisions to Emission Guideline Implementing Regulations; Revisions to New Source Review
Program,” EPA. www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-08/documents/utilities_ria_proposed_ace_2018-08.pdf
“Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis,” Interagency Working Group.
“Trump Put a Low Cost on Carbon Emissions. Here’s Why It Matters,” New York Times.
“Cancer: Climate and Human Health,” National Institute of Environmental Health Science.
“Study: Air Pollution Causes 200,000 Early Deaths Each Year in the U.S.,” MIT News.
“The Toll from Coal,” Clean Air Task Force. www.catf.us/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/CATF_Pub_TheTollFromCoal.pdf
“Basic Information about Mercury,” EPA. www.epa.gov/mercury/basic-information-about-mercury
“Effects of Coal Mining,” U.S. Energy Information Administration.
“Trump Administration’s New Rule Weakens Toxic Coal Ash Pollution Safeguards,” Environmental Integrity Project.
“Dam Breach Sends Toxic Coal Ash Flowing into a Major North Carolina River,” Washington Post.
“BP’s Big Bill for the World’s Largest Oil Spill Reaches $61.6 Billion,” Washington Post.
“U.S., Enbridge Reach $177 Million Pipeline Spill Settlement.” Reuters. www.reuters.com/article/us-enbridge-inc-michiganoilspill-report/u-s-enbridge-reach-177-million-pipeline-spill-settlement-idUSKCN1001S4
“An Oil Spill You’ve Never Heard of Could Become One of the Biggest Environmental Disasters in the US,” CNN.
Case Study: Energy and the BP Oil Disaster from Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation by Tom
Theis and Jonathan Tomkin, Editors, is available under a Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0
license. © Dec 26, 2018, Tom Theis and Jonathan Tomkin, Editors.
of a potential tipping point in a natural system on which humans depend, in which sudden deterioration
overtakes a population beyond its ability to rebound. Everything seems ne, until it isn’t. One day we have
almonds, berries, melon, and co ee on our breakfast menu. The next day there’s a critical shortage, and we
can’t a ord them.
In sustainability terms, bee colony collapse is a classic human dimensions issue. CCD will not be solved
simply by the development of a new anti-viral drug or pesticide targeting the speci c pathogens responsible.
Part of what has caused CCD is the immunosuppressive e ects of generations of pesticides developed to
counter previous threats to bee populations, be they microbes or mites. Our chemical intervention in the
lifecycle of bees has, in evolutionary terms, selected for a more vulnerable bee. That is, bees’ current lack
of resilience is a systemic problem in our historical relationship to bees, which dates back thousands of years,
but which has altered dramatically in the last fty years in ways that now threaten collapse. And this is to
say nothing of the impact of bee colony collapse on other pollination-dependent animals and birds, which
would indeed be catastrophic in biodiversity terms.
That we have adapted to bees, and they to us, is a deep cultural and historical truth, not simply a sudden
disaster requiring the scienti c solution of a mystery. In the light of sustainability systems analysis, the
bee crisis appears entirely predictable and the problem clear cut. The di culty arises in crafting strategies
for how another complex system on a massive scale, namely global agriculture, can be reformed in order to
prevent its collapse as one ow-on e ect of the global crisis of the vital honey bee. The incentive for such
reform could not be more powerful. The prospect of a future human diet without fruits, nuts and co ee is
bleak enough for citizens of the developed world and potentially fatal for millions of others in the long term.
10.6.1 Review Questions
Question 10.6.1
What is the long history of the human relationship to bees, and what radical changes in that
relationship have occurred over the last fty years to bring it to the point of collapse? What are
the implications of bee colony collapse for the global food system?
10.6.2 References
Jacobsen, R. (2008). Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis.
New York: Bloomsbury
10.7 Case Study: Energy and the BP Oil Disaster
On the night of April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, one of hundreds operating in the Gulf of
Mexico, exploded, killing eleven men, and placing one of the most rich and diverse coastal regions on earth
in imminent danger of petroleum poisoning. BP had been drilling in waters a mile deep, and in the next two
days, as the rig slowly sank, it tore a gash in the pipe leading to the oil well on the ocean oor. Over the
next three months, two hundred million gallons of crude oil poured into the Gulf, before the technological
means could be found to seal the undersea well. It was the worst environmental disaster in American history,
and the largest peacetime oil spill ever.
18 This content is available online at .
Available for free at Connexions
Figure 10.11: The Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig on Fire
The Deepwater Horizon oil rig on re,
April, 2010. It would later sink, precipitating the worst environmental disaster in United States history.
Source: Public Domain U.S. Coast Guard
The BP oil disaster caused untold short- and long-term damage to the region. The initial impact on the
Gulf the oil washing up on beaches from Texas to Florida, and economic hardship caused by the closing
down of Gulf shing was covered closely by the news media. The longer term impacts of the oil spill on
wetlands erosion, and sh and wildlife populations, however, will not likely receive as much attention.
Much public debate over the spill has focused on the speci c causes of the spill itself, and in apportioning
responsibility. As with the example of bee colony collapse, however, the search for simple, de nitive causes can
be frustrating, because the breakdown is essentially systemic. Advanced industries such as crop pollination
and oil extraction involve highly complex interactions among technological, governmental, economic, and
natural resource systems. With that complexity comes vulnerability. The more complex a system, the more
points at which its resiliency may be suddenly exposed. In the case of the Deepwater Horizon rig, multiple
technological safeguards simply did not work, while poor and sometimes corrupt government oversight of
the rig’s operation also ampli ed the vulnerability of the overall system a case of governmental system
failure making technological failure in industry more likely, with an environmental disaster as the result.
In hindsight, looking at all the weaknesses in the Gulf oil drilling system, the BP spill appears inevitable.
19 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Deepwater_Horizon_o shore_drilling_unit_on_ re_2010.jpg
Available for free at Connexions
But predicting the speci c vulnerabilities within large, complex systems ahead of time can be next to
impossible because of the quantity of variables at work. Oil extraction takes place within a culture of pro t
maximization and the normalization of risk, but in the end, the lesson of BP oil disaster is more than a
cautionary tale of corporate recklessness and lax government oversight. The very fact that BP was drilling
under such risky conditions a mile underwater, in quest of oil another three miles under the ocean oor is
an expression of the global demand for oil, the world’s most valuable energy resource. To understand that
demand, and the lengths to which the global energy industry will go to meet it, regardless of environmental
risk, requires the longer view of our modern history as a fossil-fueled species.
10.7.1 Review Questions
Question 10.7.1
In what ways is the BP Oil Disaster of 2010 an example of complex human systems failure, and
what are its longer chains of causation in the history of human industrialization?
10.8 Sustainability Ethics
10.8.1 Learning Objectives
After reading this module, students should be able to
• understand the principle of the intergenerational social contract at the core of sustainability ethics
• de ne the global terms of responsibility for action on sustainability, both the remote responsibilities
applicable to you as an individual consumer, and the historically-based concept of shared but di erentiated responsibilities driving negotiations between nations in di erent hemispheres
10.8.2 Developing an Ethics of Sustainability
The 1987 United Nations Brundtland de nition of sustainability21 embodies an intergenerational contract:
to provide for our present needs, while not compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
It’s a modest enough proposal on the face of it, but it challenges our current expectations of the intergenerational contract: we expect each new generation to be better o than their parents. Decades of technological
advancement and economic growth have created a mindset not satis ed with mere sustainability. We might
call it turbo-materialism or a cornucopian worldview: namely that the earth’s bounty, adapted to our use
by human ingenuity, guarantees a perpetual growth in goods and services. At the root of the cornucopian
worldview lies a brand of technological triumphalism, an unshakeable con dence in technological innovation
to solve all social and environmental problems, be it world hunger, climate change, or declining oil reserves.
In sustainability discourse, there is a wide spectrum of opinion from the extremes of cornucopian optimism
on one side and to the doom-and-gloom scenarios that suggest it is already too late to avert a new Dark Age
of resource scarcity and chronic con ict on the other.
20 This content is available online at .
21 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Common_Future
Available for free at Connexions
Fossil Fuels
Overview of Chapter 11
Fossil Fuels
 Coal
 Coal mining
 Environmental Effects of Burning Coal
Oil and Natural Gas
 Exploration
for Oil and Natural Gas
 Oil and Natural Gas reserves
 Environmental Impacts of Oil and Natural Gas
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Fossil Fuels
Fossil Fuels- Combustible deposits in the
Earth’s crust
 Composed
of the remnants (fossils) of prehistoric
organisms that existed millions of years ago
 Includes coal, oil (petroleum) and natural gas
Supply over 80% of energy used in North
Non-renewable resource
 Fossil
fuels are created too slowly to replace the
reserves we use
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
How Are Fossil Fuels Formed?
300 million years ago
 Climate
was mild
 Vast swamps covered much of the land
 Dead plant material decayed slowly in the swamp
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
How Are Fossil Fuels Formed
 Heat,
pressure and time turned the plant material
into carbon-rich rock (coal)
 Sediment
deposited over microscopic plants
 Heat pressure and time turned them into
hydrocarbons (oil)
Natural Gas
 Formed
the same way as oil, but at temperatures
higher than 100 °C
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Most, if not all, coal deposits have been
Occurs in different grades- based on variations
in heat and pressure during burial
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
US has 25% of world’s coal supplies
Known coal deposits could last 200 years
 At
present rate of consumption
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Coal Mining
Coal usually found in seems that vary from 1”
to 100’ in thickness
Surface mining (below)
 Chosen
if coal is within 30m of surface
 Ex: Strip mining
Subsurface mining
 Extraction
of mineral
and energy resources
from deep
underground deposits
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Environmental Impacts of Mining Coal
Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act
 Requires
filling (reclaiming) of surface mines after
 Reduces Acid Mine Drainage
 Requires permits and inspections of active coal
mining sights
 Prohibits coal mining in sensitive areas
Land with mines abandoned prior to 1977 are
slowly being restored
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Mountain Top Removal
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Mountain Top Removal
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Environmental Impacts of Burning Coal
Releases large quantities of CO2 into
 Greenhouse
Releases other pollutants into atmosphere
 Mercury
 Sulfur
 Nitrogen oxides
Can cause acid precipitation
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Making Coal Cleaner
Scrubbers – desulfurization systems
 Remove
98–99% of sulfur from power plant’s
 Expensive
 Sludge byproduct must be disposed of
Sludge and fly ash are part of resource
Nationwide cap of SO2 and nitrogen oxide
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Making Coal Cleaner
Fluidized Bed Combustion
 Sulfur
removed from coal during combustion
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Oil and Natural Gas
Oil and gas provide 62% of US’s energy
 They
provide 58.1% of World’s energy
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Petroleum Refining
Numerous hydrocarbons
present in crude oil
(petroleum) are separated
 Based
on boiling point
Natural gas contains far fewer
hydrocarbons than crude oil
 Methane,
ethane, propane and
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Natural Gas
Contains methane, propane and butane
 Propane
and butane are used for cooking and
heating in rural areas
 Methane used for heat and to generate electricity
in power plants
Natural gas as vehicle fuel
 Emit
93% fewer hydrocarbons, 90% less carbon
monoxide and 90% fewer toxic emissions than
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Oil and Natural Gas Exploration
Oil and natural gas migrate upwards until they
hit impermeable rock
Usually located in structural traps
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Oil Reserves
Uneven distribution globally
More than half is located in the Middle East
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Natural Gas Reserves
Uneven distribution globally
More than half is located in Russia and Iran
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
How long will Supplies Last?
May have already reached peak oil
Depends on:
 Locating
more deposits
 Future extraction
 Changes in global
consumption rates
Experts indicate there
may be shortages in
21st century.
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Environmental Impacts of Oil
and Natural Gas
 Increase
carbon dioxide and pollutant emissions
 Natural gas is far cleaner burning than oil
 Disturbance
to land and habitat
 Spills-
especially in aquatic systems
 Ex: Alaskan Oil Spill (1989)
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
April 22, 2010 – Deepwater Horizon, a drilling
platform in the Gulf of Mexico, exploded
 Flow
of oil from the oil well was finally stopped in
mid-July 2010
 5 million barrels of oil
flowed into ocean
 Most rose to surface
where it spread
75,000km2 of
ocean were covered
â—¼ Nearly
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Extent of Deepwater Horizon Spill
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
1989 Alaskan Oil Spill
Exxon Valdez hit a reef and spilled 260,000
barrels of crude oil into sound
Largest oil spill in US history
Led to Oil Pollution Act of 1990
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
1989 Alaskan Oil Spill
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Case in Point – Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
A liquid or gaseous fuel that is synthesized
from coal and other naturally occurring
substitute for oil or natural gas
Tar sands (bitumen)
 Bitumen
difficult to remove- must heat it
underground with steam to make it flow
 Refined like crude oil
Oil shales (kerogen)
 Crushed
and heated to yield oil
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Gas hydrates
 Ice
encrusted natural gas
deep under permafrost in
Liquefied coal
 Liquid
produced from coal
 Expensive to produce
Coal gas (right)
 Burns
as cleanly as natural
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Environmental Impact of Synfuels
Many of same undesirable effects as fossil
 Contribute
to global warming
 Contribute to air pollution
Coal gas requires large amount of water to
 Mostly
located in areas very short on water
Recovering fuels in tar sands and oil shales
would require extensive surface mining
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Renewable Energy and Nuclear Power
Overview of Chapter 12
Direct Solar Energy
 Indirect Solar Energy
 Other Renewable Energy Sources
 Nuclear Energy
 Pros and Cons of Nuclear Energy
 Radioactive Waste
 Future of Nuclear Power
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Direct Solar Energy
Perpetually available
Varies with latitude, season, time of day, and
cloud cover
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Heating Buildings and Water
Passive solar energy
 System
of putting the sun’s energy to use without
requiring mechanical devices to distribute the
collected heat
Certain design features can enhance passive
solar energy’s heating potential
 South
facing windows (in N. hemisphere)
 Well insulated buildings
 Attic vents
 Overhangs and solar sunspaces
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Solar Sunspace
Utilizes passive solar
energy to heat and
cool homes
Can be added to
existing homes
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Heating Buildings and Water
Active Solar Energy
 System
of collecting and absorbing the sun’s
energy, and using pumps or fans distribute the
collected heat
Typically used to
heat water
8% of energy in
the US is used to
heat water
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Heating Buildings and Water
Solar Thermal Electric Generation
 Means
of producing electricity in which the sun’s
energy is concentrated by mirrors or lenses to
either heat a fluid filled pipe or drive a Stirling
 More efficient than other solar technologies
â—¼ No
air pollution
â—¼ No contribution to global warming or acid precipitation
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Solar Thermal Electric
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Photovoltaic Solar Cells
A wafer or thin film that is treated with certain
metals so that they generate electricity when
they absorb solar energy
No pollution and
Used on any scale
 Lighted
road signs
 Entire building
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Photovoltaic Solar Cells
More economical than running electrical
lines to rural areas
 Can be
into building
 Roofing
 Tile
 Window glass
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Cost of Electrical Power Plants
Alternative power sources are becoming
competitive with traditional power sources
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Indirect Solar Energy
 Plant
materials, such as wood, crop wastes and
animal waste, used as fuel
Wind energy
 Electric
or mechanical energy obtained from
surface air currents caused by solar warming of air
 Form
of renewable energy reliant on flowing or
falling water to generate mechanical energy or
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Contains energy from sun via photosynthesizing plants
 Oldest
known fuel to humans- still used by half the
world’s population
 Renewable when used
no faster than it can be
Can convert to biogas
or liquids
 Ethanol
and methanol
 Clean fuel
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
 Reduces
dependence on fossil fuels
 Often uses waste materials
 If trees are planted at same rate biomass is
combusted, no net increase in atmospheric CO2
 Requires
land, water and fossil fuel energy
 Can lead to:
â—¼ Deforestation
â—¼ Desertification
â—¼ Soil
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Wind Energy
World’s fastest growing
source of energy
Wind results from sun
warming the atmosphere
 Varies
in direction and
New wind turbines
harness wind efficiently
 Most
profitable in rural
areas with constant wind
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Wind Energy
Few environmental
 Kills
birds and bats
No waste- clean
source of energy
Biggest constraints:
 Cost
 Public
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Most efficient energy
source (90%)
Most widely used form
of solar energy
 19%
of world’s energy
Traditional hydropower
 Suited
only to large dams
New technology
 Utilize
low flow systems
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Other Indirect Solar Energy
Ocean waves
 Produced
by winds
 Has potential to turn a turbine- and create
Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC)
 Ocean
Temperature Gradients
 Use difference in temperature of surface and
deep water to create electricity
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Other Renewable Energy Sources
Geothermal energy
 Energy
from the Earth’s interior for either space
heating or generation of electricity
Tidal Energy
 Form
of renewable energy that relies of the ebb
and flow of the tides to generate electricity
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Geothermal Energy
Enormous energy source
 1%
of heat in upper 10km
of earth crust is equal to
500X the earth’s fossil
fuel sources
From Hydrothermal
 Created
by volcanoes
 Reservoirs used directly
for heat or to generate
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Geothermal Energy
From hot, dry rock
Geothermal heat pumps
 Use
difference in
temperature between
surface and subsurface
 Great for heating
 Expensive installation
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Tidal Energy
Typical difference between high and low tide is
1-2 ft
 Narrow
bays may have greater variation
Potential energy difference between low and
high tide can be captured with
dam across a bay
 A turbine similar to a wind turbine
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Nuclear Power
Nuclear energy
 Energy
released by nuclear fission or fusion
Nuclear fission
 Splitting
of an atomic nucleus into two smaller
fragments, accompanied by the release of a large
amount of energy
Nuclear fusion
 Joining
of two lightweight atomic nuclei into a
single, heavier nucleus, accompanied by the
release of a large amount of energy
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Atoms and Radioactivity
 Comprised
of protons (+)
and neutrons (neutral)
Electrons (–) orbit
around nucleus
Neutral atoms
 Same
# of protons and
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Atoms and Radioactivity
Atomic mass
 Sum
of the protons and neutrons in an atom
Atomic number
 Number
of protons per atom
 Each element has its own atomic number
 Atom
where the number of neutrons is greater
than the number of protons
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Radioactive Isotope
Unstable isotope
Radioactive Decay
 Emission
of energetic particles or rays from
unstable atomic nuclei
 Uranium
(U-235) decays over time to lead (Pb-
Each isotope decays based on its own half-life
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Radioactive Isotope Half-lives
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Nuclear Fission
Nuclear Fuel Cycle
 Processes
involved in
producing the fuel
used in nuclear
reactors from mining
to disposing of
radioactive (nuclear)
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Nuclear Fission
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How Electricity is Produced
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Breeder Nuclear Fission
A type of nuclear
fission in which
U-238 is
converted into
fissionable Pu239
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Pros and Cons of Nuclear Energy
 Less
of an immediate environmental impact
compared to fossil fuels
 Carbon-free source of electricity
 May be able to generate H-fuel
 Generates
radioactive waste
 Many steps require fossil fuels (mining and
 Expensive
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Pros and Cons of Nuclear Energy
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Safety Issues in Nuclear Power
 At
high temperatures the metal encasing the
uranium fuel can melt, releasing radiation
Probability of meltdown is low
Public perception is that nuclear power is not
Sites of major accidents:
 Three
Mile Island, PA
 Chernobyl, Ukraine
 Fukushima Daiichi, Japan
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Three-Mile Island
1979 – most serious reactor accident in US
50% meltdown of reactor core
 Containment
building kept radiation from
 No substantial environmental damage
 No human casualties
12 years and 1 billion dollars to repair
Elevated public fear of nuclear energy
 Led
to cancellation of many new plants in US
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1986 – worst accident in history
1 or 2 explosions destroyed the nuclear
 Large
amounts of radiation escaped into
Spread across large portions of Europe
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spread was
and uneven
4,000 deaths
attributed to
plant explosion
 Mostly
due to
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Fukushima Daiichi
March 11, 2011 – caused by magnitude 9.0
earthquake and ensuing tsunami
 Disrupted
power systems that pump cooling water
to reactor cores and spent fuel rods
Increased radiation in local water and food
 May
limit seafood catches for decades
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Fukushima Daiichi
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Nuclear Energy and Nuclear
31 countries use nuclear energy to create
These countries have access to materials
needed to produce enriched plutonium or
uranium for nuclear weapons
Safe storage and handling of these weapons
is a concern
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Radioactive Waste
Low level radioactive waste
 Radioactive
solids, liquids or gases that give off
small amounts of ionizing radiation
 Produced by power plants, research labs,
hospitals and industry
High-level radioactive waste
 Radioactive
solids liquids or gases that give off
large amounts of ionizing radiation
 Primarily spent fuel rods and assemblies
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Radioactive Waste
Temporary storage solutions
 In
nuclear plant facility (require high security)
â—¼ Under
water storage
â—¼ Above ground concrete and steel casks
Need approved permanent options soon.
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Case-In-Point Yucca Mountain
70,000 tons of highlevel radioactive waste
Tectonic issues have
been identified
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Decommissioning Nuclear
Power Plants
Licensed to operate for 40 years
 Several
have received 20-year extensions
Power plants cannot be abandoned when they
are shut down
Three solutions
 Storage
 Entombment
 Decommissioning
(dismantling)- best option
110 power plants were retired as of 2010
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Attitudes Towards Nuclear
Generally a major case of mistrust on the part
of the public towards pro-nuclear power
scientists and politicians
NIMBY- Not In My BackYard
 Citizens
to not want a nuclear facility or waste
disposal site near their home
Dad- Decide, Announce, Defend
 Pronuclear
 Based on the science, not fears
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Way of the future?
 Produces
no high-level waste
 Fuel is hydrogen
 It
takes very high temperatures (millions of
degrees) to make atoms fuse
 Confining the plasma after it is formed
Scientists have yet to be able to create energy
from fusion
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Energy Consumption
Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Overview of Chapter 10
Energy Consumption and Policy
Energy Efficiency and Conservation
Electricity, Hydrogen and Energy Storage
Energy Policy
Energy and Climate Change
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Energy Consumption and Policy
No energy sources are truly clean
All humans activities require energy
 Heat
& cool buildings
 Illuminate buildings and streets
 Plant, harvest, & ship food
100 years ago energy sources were local
 Wood,
peat, dung
Now they are worldwide
 Fossil
fuels, nuclear energy, electricity
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Energy Consumption and Policy
Advantages of energy source
 How
concentrated it is
 Versatility
 Safety
 Availability
Disadvantages of energy source
 Hazard
 Environmental damage
 Cost
See Table 10.1 in text for details
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Energy Consumption Worldwide
Differs between developing and developed
 20%
of world’s population use 60% of the world’s
energy sources
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Energy Consumption in US
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Energy Efficiency
Amount of available energy in a source that is
transformed into useful work
Ranges from 0–100%
 Natural
gas (cooking) ~100%
 Natural gas (electricity) ~60
 Incandescent bulbs ~2-3%
 Fluorescent bulbs ~10%
 Light-emitting diodes ~20%
â—¼ Pictured
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Energy Intensity
Energy Intensity- energy use per $ of GDP
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Energy Efficiency
buildings use 70-90%
less energy
NAECA sets national
standards for
 Refrigerators
built post2001 are 75% more
efficient than those
build in 1975
 Payback of $135/yr!
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Energy Efficiency – Commercial
High-performing buildings pay for themselves
 Energy
costs = 30% of budget
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Energy Efficiency- Power Company
Demand-side Management
 Decreases
demand for electricity
 Cash rewards/incentives to customers who install
energy-efficient technologies
 Energy companies may give away free energyefficient appliances, light bulbs, etc.
 Benefits both customer and electric company
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Energy Efficiency – Transportation
Most energy in gasoline is wasted
 Energy
lost in combustion to heat
 Energy lost in braking
 Energy lost in friction with road
 Energy lost in moving weight of car (not
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Energy Efficiency – Transportation
Modern Vehicle Design
 Use
of Kevlar and plastics to reduce weight
 Gasoline-electric hybrid engines (Prius)
â—¼ Regenerative
braking recaptures lost energy
â—¼ Operate at lower temperatures
New Laws
 By
2020, all passenger vehicles must have ave
fuel efficiency of 35 mpg
â—¼ Including
minivans, light trucks and SUVs
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Energy Efficiency – Industry
Cogeneration- production of two useful forms
of energy from the same fuel
 Most
effective on small scale
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Energy Conservation
Requires a change in behaviors and practices
 Reduce
commute length
 Use public transportation or bike to work
 Turn off lights when not in use
 Reduce temperature on thermostat at night
Some changes would be difficult – e.g.,
removing subsidies
 Allow
product prices to reflect true cost of
production (including energy costs)
 Increase price of gasoline to represent true price
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Energy Conservation
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The flow of electrons in a
Can be generated from
almost any energy source
 Energy source spins a
 Turbine turns a generator
â—¼ Bundle
of wires spin around
a magnet or vice versa
 Spinning
causes electrons
to move in a wire =
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Source of electricity can be hundreds of miles
 Environmental
impacts are far away from those
who use the energy
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Hydrogen and Fuel Cells
Hydrogen gas (H2)
 Comprised
of two hydrogen molecules
 Large amounts of available energy
 Explodes when combined with oxygen
releasing energy and forming water
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Hydrogen as a Fuel Source
 Very
high energy density
 Can be produced from any electrical source
â—¼ Electrolysis
(see illustration on next slide)
 No
greenhouse gases and few other pollutants
 Can be use in vehicles
 Highly
volatile (requires special storage)
 Relatively inefficient
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Hydrogen Fuel Cell
Fuel cell
 Device
that directly
converts chemical
energy into electricity
 Requires hydrogen
from a tank and
oxygen from the air
 Similar to a battery,
but reactants are
supplied from outside
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Future Applications of Fuel Cells
Hydrogen Fuel Cells Vehicles
not yet readily available as fuel source
 61 H fueling stations in US
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Energy Storage
Many energy resources are not available when
we want them
 Too
little: Solar and wind can be intermittent
 Too much: Large coal and nuclear plants are
most efficient with constant energy output
Solution = storage of unused energy
 Less
than 100% efficient
 With each conversion, less energy is available
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Energy Storage
Superconducting Magnetic Energy Storage
Compressed Air Energy Storage
Electrochemical Energy Storage (Batteries)
Pumped Hydrogen Storage
Thermal Energy
Kinetic Energy
Storage (Flywheel)
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US Energy Policy
Objective 1: Increase Energy Efficiency and
Requires many unpopular decisions
Decrease speed limit to conserve fuel
Eliminate government subsidies
Objective 2: Secure Future Fossil Fuel
Energy Supplies
2 oppositions: environmental and economic
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US Energy Policy
Objective 3: Develop Alternative Energy
 Who
should pay for this? Gas taxes?
Objective 4: Meet the First Three Objectives
Without Further Damage to the Environment
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.
Sustainable Energy Systems from Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation by Tom Theis and
Jonathan Tomkin, Editors, is available under a Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 license. © Dec
26, 2018, Tom Theis and Jonathan Tomkin, Editors.
Chapter 8
Sustainable Energy Systems
8.1 Sustainable Energy Systems – Chapter Introduction
8.1.1 Learning Objectives
After reading this module, students should be able to
• outline the history of human energy use
• understand the challenges to continued reliance on fossil energy
• understand the motivations and time scale for transitions in energy use
8.1.2 Introduction and History
Energy is a pervasive human need, as basic as food or shelter to human existence. World energy use has
grown dramatically since the rise of civilization lured humans from their long hunter-gatherer existence
to more energy intensive lifestyles in settlements. Energy use has progressed from providing only basic
individual needs such as cooking and heating to satisfying our needs for permanent housing, farming and
animal husbandry, transportation, and ultimately manufacturing, city-building, entertainment, information
processing and communication. Our present lifestyle is enabled by readily available inexpensive fossil energy,
concentrated by nature over tens or hundreds of millions of years into convenient, high energy density deposits
of fossil fuels that are easily recovered from mines or wells in the earth’s crust.
8.1.3 Sustainability Challenges
Eighty ve percent of world energy is supplied by combustion of fossil fuels. The use of these fuels (coal
since the middle ages for heating; and coal, oil and gas since the Industrial Revolution for mechanical
energy) grew naturally from their high energy density, abundance and low cost. For approximately 200 years
following the Industrial Revolution, these energy sources fueled enormous advances in quality of life and
economic growth. Beginning in the mid-20th Century, however, fundamental challenges began to emerge
suggesting that the happy state of fossil energy use could not last forever. Environmental Pollution
The rst sustainability challenge to be addressed was environmental pollution, long noticed in industrial
regions but often ignored. Developed countries passed legislation limiting the pollutants that could be
emitted, and gradually over a period of more than two decades air and water quality improved until many
of the most visible and harmful e ects were no longer evident.
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The second sustainability issue to be addressed has been limited energy resources. The earth and its fossil
resources are nite, a simple fact with the obvious implication that we cannot continue using fossil fuels
inde nitely. The question is not when the resources will run out, rather when they will become too expensive
or technically challenging to extract. Resources are distributed throughout the earth’s crust some easily
accessible, others buried in remote locations or under impenetrable barriers. There are oil and gas deposits
in the Arctic, for example, that have not been explored or documented, because until recently they were
buried under heavy covers of ice on land and sea. We recover the easy and inexpensive resources rst, leaving
the di cult ones for future development. The cost-bene t balance is usually framed in terms of peaking
when will production reach a peak and thereafter decline, failing to satisfy rising demand, and thus create
shortages? Peaks in energy production are notoriously hard to predict because rising prices, in response to
rising demand and the fear of shortages, provide increasing nancial resources to develop more expensive
and technically challenging production opportunities.
Oil is a prime example of peaking. Although the peak in United States oil production was famously
predicted by M. King Hubbert 20 years before it occurred, successful predictions of peaks in world oil
production depend on unknown factors and are notoriously di cult (Owen, Inderwildi, & King, 2010 (p.
308); Hirsch, Bezdek, &Wendling, 2006 (p. 308)). The fundamental challenges are the unknown remaining
resources at each level of recovery cost and the unknown technology breakthroughs that may lower the
recovery cost. Receding Arctic ice and the growing ability to drill deeper undersea wells promise to bring
more oil resources within nancial and technical reach, but quantitative estimates of their impact are, at
best, tentative.
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Figure 8.1: Crude Oil Reserves The global distribution of crude oil resources.
barrels of bitumen in oil sands in Alberta, Canada.
that were part of the former U.S.S.R.Source: U.S.
2009, p. 312 (Aug. 2010)
Includes 172.7 billion
Excludes countries that were part of the former
U.S.S.R. See ” Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.)” in Glossary.
Includes only countries
Energy Information Administration, Annual Review, Uneven Geographical Distribution of Energy
The third sustainability challenge is the uneven geographical distribution of energy resources. Figure Crude
(Figure 8.1) shows the distribution of crude oil reserves, with the Middle East having far more
oil than any other region and Europe and Asia, two high population and high demand regions, with hardly
any by comparison. This geographical imbalance between energy resources and energy use creates uncertainty
and instability of supply. Weather events, natural disasters, terrorist activity or geopolitical decisions can
all interrupt supply, with little recourse for the a ected regions. Even if global reserves were abundant, their
uneven geographical distribution creates an energy security issue for much of the world.
Oil Reserves CO2 Emissions and Climate Change
The nal and most recent concern is carbon dioxide emissions and climate change (see Chapter Climate and
Global Change (Section 3.1)). Since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established by
the United Nations in 1988, awareness of the links among human carbon dioxide emissions, global warming
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and the potential for climate change has grown. Climate scientists worldwide have documented the evidence
of global warming in surface air, land and sea temperatures, the rise of sea level, glacier ice and snow
coverage, and ocean heat content (Arndt, Baringer, & Johnson, 2010 (p. 308)). Figure Temperature, Sea
Level, and Snow Cover 1850-2000 (Figure 8.2) shows three often quoted measures of global warming,
the average surface temperature, the rise of sea level and the northern hemisphere snow cover.
Figure 8.2:
Temperature, Sea Level, and Snow Cover 1850-2000
Three graphs show trends
in average surface temperature, average sea level and northern hemisphere snow cover from 1850-2000.
Source: Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report:
Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the
Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University
Press, gure 1.1, page 31
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There can be no doubt of the rising trends, and there are disturbing signs of systematic change in other
indicators as well (Arndt, et al., 2010 (p. 308)). The short-term extension of these trends can be estimated
by extrapolation. Prediction beyond thirty or so years requires developing scenarios based on assumptions
about the population, social behavior, economy, energy use and technology advances that will take place
during this time. Because trends in these quantities are frequently punctuated by unexpected developments
such as the recession of 2008 or the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011, the pace of carbon emissions, global
warming and climate change over a century or more cannot be accurately predicted. To compensate for
this uncertainty, predictions are normally based on a range of scenarios with aggressive and conservative
assumptions about the degrees of population and economic growth, energy use patterns and technology
advances. Although the hundred year predictions of such models di er in magnitude, the common theme
is clear: continued reliance on fossil fuel combustion for 85 percent of global energy will accelerate global
warming and increase the threat of climate change.
The present reliance on fossil fuels developed over time scales of decades to centuries. Figure Primary
Energy Consumption by Source, 1775-2009 (Figure 8.3) shows the pattern of fuel use in the United
States since 1775.
Figure 8.3: Primary Energy Consumption by Source, 1775-2009
fuel use in the United States since 1775.
Review, 2009, p. xx (Aug. 2010)
Graph shows the pattern of
Energy Information Administration, Annual
Wood was dominant for a century until the 1880s, when more plentiful, higher energy density and less
expensive coal became king. It dominated until the 1950s when oil for transportation became the leading
fuel, with natural gas for heating a close second. Coal is now in its second growth phase, spurred by the
popularity of electricity as an energy carrier in the second half of the 20th Century. These long time scales
are built into the energy system. Uses such as oil and its gasoline derivative for personal transportation
in cars or the widespread use of electricity take time to establish themselves, and once established provide
social and infrastructural inertia against change.
The historical changes to the energy system have been driven by several factors, including price and
supply challenges of wood, the easy availability and drop-in replaceability of coal for wood, the discovery
of abundant supplies of oil that enabled widespread use of the internal combustion engine, and the
discovery of abundant natural gas that is cleaner and more transportable in pipelines than coal. These
drivers of change are based on economics, convenience or new functionality; the resulting changes in our
energy system provided new value to our energy mix.
The energy motivations we face now are of a di erent character. Instead of adding value, the motivation
4 http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/syr/ar4_syr.pdf
5 http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/syr/ar4_syr.pdf
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is to avert “doomsday” scenarios of diminishing value: increasing environmental degradation, fuel shortages,
insecure supplies and climate change. The alternatives to fossil fuel are more expensive and harder to
implement, not cheaper and easier than the status quo. The historical motivations for change leading to
greater value and functionality are reversed. We now face the prospect that changing the energy system to
reduce our dependence on fossil fuels will increase the cost and reduce the convenience of energy.
8.1.4 Summary
Continued use of fossil fuels that now supply 85 percent of our energy needs leads to challenges of environmental degradation, diminishing energy resources, insecure energy supply, and accelerated global warming.
Changing to alternate sources of energy requires decades, to develop new technologies and, once developed,
to replace the existing energy infrastructure. Unlike the historical change to fossil fuel that provided increased supply, convenience and functionality, the transition to alternative energy sources is likely to be
more expensive and less convenient. In this chapter you will learn about the environmental challenges of
energy use, strategies for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, electricity as a clean,
e cient and versatile energy carrier, the new challenges that electricity faces in capacity, reliability and communication, the challenge of transitioning from traditional fossil to nuclear and renewable fuels for electricity
production. You will also learn about the promise of biofuels from cellulose and algae as alternatives to
oil, heating buildings and water with solar thermal and geothermal energy, and the e ciency advantages of
combining heat and power in a single generation system. Lastly, you will learn about the bene ts, challenges
and outlook for electric vehicles, and the sustainable energy practices that will reduce the negative impact
of energy production and use on the environment and human health.
8.1.5 Review Questions
Question 8.1.1
Fossil fuels have become a mainstay of global energy supply over the last 150 years. Why is the
use of fossil fuels so widespread?
Question 8.1.2
Fossil fuels present four challenges for long-term sustainability. What are they, and how do they
compare in the severity of their impact and cost of their mitigation strategies?
Question 8.1.3
The dominant global energy supply has changed from wood to coal to oil since the 1700s. How
long did each of these energy transitions take to occur, and how long might a transition to alternate
energy supplies require?
8.1.6 References
Arndt, D. S., Baringer, M. O., & Johnson, M. R. (eds.). (2010). State of the Climate in 2009. Bull. Amer.
S1 S224, http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/bams-state-of-the-climate/2009.php8
Hirsch, R.L., Bezdek, R., & Wendling, R. (2006). Peaking of World Oil Production and Its Mitigation.
AIChE Journal, 52, 2 8. doi: 10.1002/aic.1074…
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