New emissions standards would fuel shift from coal to natural gas

Apr 05, 2013

Tougher EPA air-quality standards could spur an increased shift away from coal and toward natural gas for electricity generation, according to a new Duke University study. Complying with stricter regulations on sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, nitrogen oxide and mercury may make nearly two-thirds of the nation's coal-fired power plants as expensive to run as plants powered by natural gas. The regulations would make 65 percent of U.S. coal plants as expensive as natural gas, even if gas prices rise significantly.

The cost of complying with tougher EPA air-quality standards could spur an increased shift away from coal and toward natural gas for electricity generation, according to a new Duke University study.

The stricter regulations on , , nitrogen oxide and mercury may make nearly two-thirds of the nation's coal-fired power plants as expensive to run as plants powered by natural gas, the study finds.

"Because of the cost of upgrading plants to meet the EPA's pending emissions regulations and its stricter enforcement of current regulations, natural gas plants would become cost-competitive with a majority of coal plants—even if natural gas becomes more than four times as expensive as coal," said Lincoln F. Pratson, a professor of earth and at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

"This is a much higher fraction of economic vulnerability than has previously been reported," said Pratson, an expert on carbon capture and storage, and energy systems.

To conduct the study, he and his team assessed the cost of electricity generation at plants producing 95 percent of the nation's coal-fired electricity and 70 percent of its natural gas-powered electricity. The researchers estimated costs for both types of plants over a wide range of fuel prices and under both existing and pending emissions standards.

Under current standards and at current fuel prices, 9 percent of U.S. coal-fired plants are more costly to run than a median-cost natural gas plant, they found. Even a modest jump in gas prices could erase this advantage. "If the ratio of natural gas-to-coal prices rises to 1.8 from its recent level of around 1.5, coal plants would again become the dominant least-cost generation option," Pratson said.

However, with tougher the EPA would enact and enforce, another 56 percent of U.S. coal plants would become as costly to run as natural gas plants. The regulations would make 65 percent of coal plants nationwide as expensive as natural gas, even if gas prices rise significantly.

"Most natural gas plants typically produce only one emission—nitrogen oxide—that is in excess of the proposed new EPA thresholds, but many coal plants may exceed all of the thresholds, making it more expensive for them to come into compliance," Pratson said. "This has spurred legal and political debates over whether the pending regulations unfairly disadvantage the U.S. coal industry."

The study takes no sides in the debate, he stressed. "We neither argue for nor against continued use of coal power. Our goal is to present an objective analysis of the economic sensitivity of both types of plants to fuel price fluctuations and the potential cost of emission-control upgrades."

Monthly emissions from the U.S. electricity sector have fallen to 1990s levels in recent years, helping to reduce total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions to their lowest levels since 1992. This CO2 decline is largely due to greater use of natural gas in place of , a shift made possible by lower natural gas prices from the recent surge in domestic shale gas production.

Whether or not the shift to natural gas picks up speed and continues will depend on more than just whether the proposed EPA standards are enacted, Pratson noted. A transition to natural gas for will require the construction of a much larger network of pipelines and other infrastructure to transport and store the gas, assuring power of a reliable supply.

The net effect of the shift to on global carbon dioxide emissions remains uncertain, Pratson said, since coal that is not consumed in the United States is already finding its way to other countries in Europe and Asia.

Explore further: Using intelligence to unlock the market for electric vehicles

More information: The Duke team's peer-reviewed study was published this week in the online edition of Environmental Science & Technology.

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User comments : 11

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dogbert
1.8 / 5 (15) Apr 05, 2013
The EPA should not have the power it has.

thermodynamics
4.3 / 5 (11) Apr 05, 2013
Dogbert: Since you seem to be against the EPA, which group do you propose work to limit pollutants? Industry has shown itself to be shameless in the messes that have been left behind. Please help me understand which group has been good at keeping the US clean? Thank you in advance for your sources, suggestions, and references.
dogbert
1.8 / 5 (15) Apr 05, 2013
The EPA defines CO2 as a pollutant. That about sums up its usefulness.

Currently the EPA is simply a tool of the administration to push its political agenda. It stopped providing a positive environmental effect a long time ago.
Virem
4 / 5 (8) Apr 05, 2013
The EPA defines CO2 as a pollutant. That about sums up its usefulness.

Currently the EPA is simply a tool of the administration to push its political agenda. It stopped providing a positive environmental effect a long time ago.

Oh I get it, I can play this game.
The united states is a tiny country situated on the coast of Antarctica. It has a population 2000 and Islam is the predominant religion.

Not a bad first try eh? ....but how can we tell who wins this? shall we say it's who has the most words without any semblance of sense or fact? ...
dogbert
1.3 / 5 (12) Apr 05, 2013
how can we tell who wins this? shall we say it's who has the most words without any semblance of sense or fact? ...


You win. Pure nonsense.
kochevnik
2.3 / 5 (9) Apr 05, 2013
Currently the EPA is simply a tool of the administration to push its political agenda. It stopped providing a positive environmental effect a long time ago.
You mean their sponsorship of Monsanto?
dogbert
1.7 / 5 (12) Apr 05, 2013
You mean their sponsorship of Monsanto?


I am not aware of the EPA's efforts on behalf of Monsanto.

I was referring to such actions as:

* Their attacks on the coal industry. Obama stated before he was elected president that he intended to shut down the coal industry.

* Their actions in defining CO2 as a pollutant, thus justifying their actions against fossil fuel. Obama has waged a war against fossil fuel and has spend billions on pie in the sky "green" energy projects.

* Their current demands that gasoline be "cleaner" which will cost everyone. This is something no one who has the least bit of common sense would be requiring during a protracted recession.

And other such foolishness.
Steven_Anderson
2.8 / 5 (11) Apr 06, 2013
dogbert: You should move to China, they love CO2 and air pollution there. Breath deep the gathering gloom. Unfortunately CO2 and pollution does not have national or pollitical bounds since we all breath and survive off the same air. http://rawcell.com
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (8) Apr 06, 2013
The only force, which can effect something is the power of market. If the shale gas will prove its economical viability, it could gradually replace the oil in some applications. But from my perspective it's just waste of carbon and pollution of biosphere with something, which can be replaced with cold fusion already - if only energetic lobby would allow its research.
MR166
1.4 / 5 (10) Apr 06, 2013
First of all, given that fossil resources are limited, we should be using the proper fuel for the proper application. Coal is a great fuel for use in stationary applications. Natural gas should be used as a replacement for diesel or gasoline.

The US and the EPA suffers from the "If a little is good then a lot has to be better" syndrome. Yes we can remove that last PPM of arsenic or ( insert your favorite pollutant here ) from the water supply or air that we breath but is it worth bankrupting our economy for. People have to be able to feed and house their families without government subsidies.
Steven_Anderson
2.4 / 5 (8) Apr 06, 2013
ValeriaT: Cold fusion is worthy of research but that is all it is. On the Other hand generation IV nuclear reactors such as Thorium based ones are ripe for development already. I am reworking the deployment numbers because my 1.6 Trillion figure could be off by as much as 50%. It might only cost 800 billion to convert existing coal plants. Will post the results as soon as I am finished. http://rawcell.com