Last Updated on March 5, 2021 by Filip Poutintsev
Coal is one of the most essential non-renewable energy sources, a strong carbon-rich material that is typically brown or black and most often occurs in stratified sedimentary deposits.
Development of coal started during the Carboniferous time frame known as first coal age which transverse 360 million to 290 million years back.
The development of slit and difference sediments together with movement in the earth’s crust known as tectonic movements covered swamps and peat hazes, frequently to great depths.
With burial, the plant materials were exposed to high temperatures and pressures. This caused physical and chemical changes in the vegetation, changing it into peat and then into coal.
Coal energy has contributed to the stimulation and sustainability of the industrial revolution. Approximately, 40% of energy production in the United States, coal has its own benefits and shortcomings.
Advantages of Coal Energy
Despite the bad reputation it has obtained particularly from the environmentalists who encourage the world to shift towards cleaner energies, such as wind and solar energy, coal still remains a significant product all over the world due to its versatile nature.
1. Abundant Supply
The presence of coal is in each continent. More than seventy countries around the globe have facilitated the supply of coal in which large suppliers are industrialized nations such as the USA, China, India, and Russia.
According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), coal reserves in the United States alone can last up to roughly 190 additional years. Regardless of it being considered as non-renewable, it is improbable that we will run out of it at any time soon in the near future.
2. High Load Factor
Coal provides excessive load factor, giving us access to access to an efficient and predictable level of energy. It is estimated that coal as a fuel has the capability of offering a load factor that is above 80%. The reason why coal is still a popular fuel is that when it is compared to a renewable source of energy like solar or wind, the load factor is more than double of it.
Coal energy is inexpensive and affordable compared to fossil fuels like oil and also renewable sources of energy like solar and wind. Also, extractions of coal and acquiring coal mines require little investment compared to solar and wind energy.
4. Bunch of Applications
Coal is a versatile source of energy. The most significant uses of coal are in electricity generation, steel production, cement manufacturing, and liquid coal. Other crucial users of coal include alumina refineries, paper manufacturers and the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.
5. Reduces Dependencies on Fossil Fuels
Using coal will make people around the globe less dependent on other sources of energy like oil. Oil is often sourced from nations with unstable political status and coal can help provide energy independence.
6. The Full-Time Energy Source
Coal is a reliable source of energy in terms of its predictability. Unlike wind and sun, coal-based power generation is independent of weather and except when the coal mining site is declared dangerous or unworkable which can occur due to improper site management, there would be continuous supply.
Work would still continue despite rain or strong winds which means utilization of coal energy can be at a maximum level even if the weather is not that favorable.
7. Strong Industrial Foundation
The history of coal mining goes back thousands of years. It became important in the industrial revolution of the 19th and 20th centuries when it was mostly used to power steam engines, heat buildings and generate electricity.
Ever since coal mining continues as an important economic activity today and the reason behind the strong foundation in the energy sector.
Disadvantages of Coal Energy
1. Not a renewable source
The current rate of coal energy consumption is quite high. As a fossil fuel, there is a finite supply and at some point, it will ultimately get exhausted.
So there must be a backup plan in place in the case.
2. Environmental Impacts
It is harmful to the environment due to the production of dangerous by-products, such as nitrogen, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, etc. In addition, coal-burning can cause pollution to the environment, like acid rain. According to the EIA, coal with a carbon content of 78% and a heating value of 14,000 BTU would produce about 204.3 pounds of CO2 per 1 million BTU.
(Abbreviation BTU – British Thermal Unit)
3. High level of radiation
According to Scientific American, a coal power plant can produce up to 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant. Burning of coal produces fly ash, a material in which the Uranium and Thorium are much more concentrated. These radiations are also said to be the reason behind asthma and lung cancer.
4. Coal Mining Impact
Coal mines are surrounded by plants, rivers, and other natural landscapes and digging for coal would destroy forest areas which serve as wildlife habitat. The noise coming from large mining equipment can harm local wildlife.
Fires connected to coal mining create underground burning that can be difficult to remove. People might have to relocate themselves to avoid pollution of the coal mines.
5. Unwanted Waste
Coal-terminated plants bring about the development of garbage that is of no longer use. That waste contains a lot of harmful materials. It brings about the growth of dumping sites that are unsafe for human and animal life.
6. Risky Job
Even though there are various job opportunities in the coal energy sector, we cannot ignore the fact that mining grounds for fuel can cost the lives of miners. According to research, thousands of people have lost their lives in the mines.
The United States Department of Energy and members of the private sector are creating cleaner forms of coal energy generation. They will likely decrease or eradicate air and water pollution in recently designed power plants.
Furthermore, the US Department of Energy is also attempting to recover ozone-depleting substances created from converting coal into an energy form. If it is implemented efficiently and effectively, it may double the energy produced from coal over the next two decades.