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Correcting Mr. Secretary. Or, Steven Chu has his numbers wrong

April 16th, 2009 · 6 Comments

The Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, made comments re coal and its future in the American electrical system that, to be kind, make those concerned about effective paths forward on dealing with climate change uncomfortable. In particular, the following words

quite frankly I doubt if the United States will turn its back on coal. We are generating over 50% of our electrical energy from coal.”

This was part of an overall discussion of the importance and value of investing in Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) research and development, which Secretary Chu rightly discusses as a possible and ‘if’ it can be made to work cost effectively, rather than some certainty that we should rely on for our collective futures. And, he correctly highlights that the United States does “not exist in a vacuum” and should consider the role of coal elsewhere, such as in China, India, etc. Thus, there is much in Chu’s discussion that merits more serious discussion, analysis and consideration.

However, Secretary Chu is getting a very significant point wrong. The United States is NOT “generating over 50% of our electrical energy from coal.”

In fact, in 2008, according to Department of Energy figures, the United States generated 48.5 percent of its electricity from coal. And, that percentage of coal in the US electrical system is falling as new renewable energy and natural gas generation dominates the new production. And, what is notable is that this is not just in terms of percent of generation, but in terms of total kilowatt hours.

Mr. Secretary: This is an important issue and it is critical to get the facts right.

Tags: Energy · coal · energy information administration

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Anders // Apr 17, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    I suppose I fail to see the significance of 1.5% of our energy use… I mean, give the guy a break, “over 50%” is close enough to 48.5% that I’m not too worried about it.

    Perhaps not clearly articulated enough is that what is important is the trend. That getting this ‘fact right’, that coal has now fallen below 50%, can start to put one in a mindset of seeing coal being driven out of the electricity system by cleaner and less expensive options.

    There is a trend here.

    A major part of Chu’s job should be to accelerate that trend.

    Of course recognizing the trend is the first step to reinforcing it.

  • 2 danny // Apr 22, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    nice facts… …Ineeded the research

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