Coal has been a cornerstone of human adaptation and advancement since cave men walked the Earth (Department of Energy). Greeks, Romans, and Chinese used coal as early as 100 B.C (History of Coal). During the Revolutionary War, coal was used to manufacture the weapons that gave America its freedom. Those uses were bolstered increased use in transportation, such as for steamships and railroads in the early 1800’s (NETL). In 1875, coal began to be used widely for heating and cooking needs, which fed human ingenuity during the Industrial Revolution (Department of Energy). Steel made from coal began to be used in construction to build structurally sound homes that protected people from the elements (Department of Energy). Then, in 1882, Thomas Edison created the first commercial power plant utilizing coal as the fuel, which kept people safe and productive by lighting their homes when darkness fell (NETL). It is due to this invention that presently, services such as hospitals and water treatment facilities can operate around the clock. In 2014, coal provided 39 percent of the total electricity generated across the United States (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2015). This energy is used to fulfill many of the same needs it did in the 1800’s, such as heating homes, providing electricity for light, being used to create steel, and to support economic growth at all times of the day. Other fossil fuels, such as natural gas and oil, along with nuclear energy share similar stories of improving the quality of everyday life for people, from a survival and comfort / productivity stand point.
International coal trade brings affordable energy to countries that need it! #worlddevelopment #improvelives \
Even with a track record showing coal and other fossil fuels have benefitted civilization, environmentalists claim fossil fuels are a harm to society, with common statements such as:
- The impacts of fossil fuel combustion as an energy source negate any benefits to the improvement of human well-being and the environment.
- Fossil fuels are an inefficient and expensive alternative to renewable forms of energy.
- Governments must find a way to provide access to such renewable sources of energy as the only means to improve access to energy
However, as mentioned earlier, throughout history coal and other fossil fuels have performed quite well at improving our lives. Life expectancy and rising GDP have occurred over the last 200 years as a direct benefit of the use of fossil fuels, as shown below (Goklany, 2015).
Is it worth it to deny access to these resources with mandates and increasingly strict regulation? Are renewable energy resources up to the task of providing reliable and inexpensive generation?
Reliability is a key aspect of providing adequate electric supply. “Power allows business owners and employees to increase working hours. This not only means that they can open their shop earlier and stay open later, but that business owners can complete other work related to owning and operating a business before and after daylight hours (Knoth, 2013).” In the absence of cost effective, industrially scaled energy storage, energy sources must be available locally, and in sufficient quantities to supply people’s needs throughout the year, day, or night. Unfortunately, the wind does not always blow, and the sun does not always shine, but coal, oil, and nuclear fuels can be stockpiled for use at any time. Most renewable sources are unable to support such a claim, and instead require back-up by other sources, often fossil and nuclear. These costs are rarely factored into the total cost of production, but directly impact the total cost to the consumer. In terms of cost on a $/MWh level, coal and natural gas are still the cheapest forms of energy generation available, as displayed below (World Energy Council, 2013):
It should be of common interest to support the expansion of inexpensive, reliable, and sustainable energy to benefit the human condition in all areas of the world. Research has shown access to reliable and inexpensive energy resources dramatically increases access to clean water, health services, food production, transportation, employment and technology. All of these factors improve living conditions, life expectancy, and humanity’s ability to adapt to a changing planet. Low energy costs, high energy reliability, and technological advancement have all been made possible due to fossil fuel use.
Energy from coal and other fossil fuels have existed as a testament to human ingenuity since 100 B.C (History of Coal). When people wanted to travel further, a car running on oil was invented that allowed them to do so. The first power plant built, which ran on coal, sparked an idea that light could exist in every home, even at night. Present day, natural gas furnaces are burning in people’s basements helping them live comfortably in –sub-zero temperatures. Fossil fuels are here to help society, and have been doing so for more than two thousand years.
Fossil fuels have been used to benefit mankind since 100 B.C (History of Coal). Coal specifically has powered various forms of transportation, as well as provided heat, steel, and electricity. However, fossil fuels such as natural gas, and oil, as well as nuclear energy, share a similar history of assisting mankind through daily life. The storage capability of some fossil fuels allows them to be utilized even if real time shipments of the fuel are not occurring. This ability to stockpile energy resources ensures the lights stay on at all times and essential services like hospitals and water treatment facilities provide services when they’re needed. The storage capability of fossil fuels also means they are portable, allowing us to transfer them to locations where they are needed. The relatively inexpensive nature of fossil fuels also is a clear benefit for people, allowing us to affordably power our cars and heat our homes.
Unfortunately, wind power only works when the wind blows, and solar power only works when the sun shines, and when mandates, subsidies, full life cycles, and requirements for firming power and new transmission are included in costs, both are clearly far more expensive than fossil fuel-based generation (World Energy Council, 2013). Instead of looking to replace fossil fuels with less reliable and more expensive sources of generation, we should be looking ahead to what fossil fuels could possibly do for mankind in the future.
Objection: Fossil fuels have been useful in the past, but now need to be replaced by renewable sources.
Response: One key advantage of fossil fuels is their ability to be stored. A commercially viable battery to store solar and wind energy has not been created yet. Therefore, coal, oil, and nuclear must be stockpiled for when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing to allow for reliable generation 24/7/365.
Objection: Renewables have come down in price to rival that of fossil fuels.
Response: Though renewables have dropped in price over the years, nuclear, coal and natural gas are still amongst the cheapest energy sources we have in the world. Renewables are currently only able to “compete” because federal and state mandates force them into the energy mix. Then massive federal and state subsidies cover a substantial portion of their costs, meaning in many cases, renewable producers can lose money on the energy generation, but still make money overall because of government support. The only renewable source that rivals fossil fuels without subsidies is hydroelectric (World Energy Council, 2013).
Objection: Fossil fuels are reducing our quality of life with their pollution.
Fossil fuels have actually increased and improved our quality of life. They make personal transportation by car possible for long distances, they provide reliable power due to their storage properties, and they are inexpensive in comparison to renewables. Fossil fuels have been a foundational aspect of many of the technological, medical, and infrastructure improvements that make human lives more comfortable and safe. Prior to the widespread use of fossil fuels, humans lived much shorter lives, that were fraught with many more diseases, much less reliable food and medicine resources, and were seriously threatened by changing weather every year.