Coal accounts for 50 percent of U.S. electricity generation, and that number is projected to rise slightly by 2030, according to the EIA. Even assuming a substantial reduction in demand owing to new policies, coal is likely to play an important part in our energy mix for decades to come.
Fortunately, there appears to be a way to reconcile coal’s ongoing use as a major energy source with the imperative of cutting CO2 emissions, namely carbon capture-and-storage technologies. CCS technologies capture the CO2 emitted during coal combustion and then store this CO2 underground in geologic reservoirs. Given the scale of existing and projected coal use and the scope of its carbon impact, a full-tilt effort to demonstrate and deploy CCS technology has to be a first-order priority for developing a low-carbon economy.
The components of CCS—carbon capture, transport via pipelines, and geologic storage—are all commercially in use. In the United States, 35 million metric tons of CO2 annually are captured and injected for enhanced oil recovery. Still, this is small-scale compared to what would be needed to deploy full-scale CCS, which will be a huge undertaking.
Implementing CCS will be costly and challenging, but without this new technology coal is far too carbon intensive to remain a viable energy source.
Read more about this idea from the Center for American Progress: