Electric Power Generation
Electricity is as old as the Earth, itself; it has been present since the very beginning in the form of lightening. It is also present in life, as eels discharge a stunning jolt to daze their prey and attackers alike.
The Greeks thought that rubbing an amber rod with cat fur created magnetism. The rod charged with static electricity would subsequently attract feathers, acting similarly to a magnet.
There had been attention to the study of electricity throughout the ages, but it was Benjamin Franklin’s proof that lightening was actually electricity, that electrified the world. Thereafter, the study of electricity and magnetism accelerated.
We can thank Thomas Edison for the light bulb, but most importantly Nikolai Tesla provided to us the method for transmitting Alternating Current (AC). AC has given us the means to transmit electric power over long distances, enabling grids that have spread far and nationwide, even to remote rural areas.
Today, those of us fortunate enough to live in developed societies and cultures are inextricably dependent upon electricity. Electricity is generated and distributed almost everywhere on the planet. Not having electricity, due to severe weather for example, is almost an unbearable situation. Electricity has become as important to us as food and water. It heats and cools our homes and provides light to see at night; power for our stoves to cook our food; refrigerators to preserve our food in the cold, and power to run our computers and televisions.
History tells us that as far back as 1000 BCE, the Chinese mined coal from the Fushun mine in Northeastern China for use coal in the process of smelting copper. In the 1200’s Marco Polo described coal as “black stones that burn like logs”. He reported that coal was so plentiful that people could take 3 baths per week. Coal has a long history for use as an abundant and inexpensive fuel. Electric power generation naturally followed the same advantageous path of cheap fuel for the production of intense heat.
In the United States, the average sized Coal fired Electric Power Plant is just under 700 MW in size. Equivalently, there are about 500 of these average sized power plants. Each one of these power-generating stations emits around 3,200,000 tons of CO₂ each year.
The concern about global warming has incited the United States to begin taking regulatory action that will start to bring the country’s emissions toward compliance limits already imposed in other developed nations. In the summer of 2013, Pres. Barak Obama issued a directive to the Environmental Protection Agency for the regulation of carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act; specifically, focusing on Power Plant emissions under Section 111.
With the possibility of a federal “Cap and Trade” program for CO₂ emissions, the fiscal impact to power producers, and the public, could be significant.
There are a few different technologies currently available for the capture of CO₂ from Power Plants. These technologies are expensive, and usually require underground sequestration of high pressure CO₂.
The sequestration sites must be capped and sealed against high-pressure escape or “blow out”. In the future, should one of these seals fracture, or be blown out, the resulting cloud of poisonous CO₂ could result in a large number of deaths, especially if it occurred upwind from a populated area. There have been several documented natural releases of CO₂ that have resulted in the deaths of thousands of people. Most recently in Cameroon in 1986 when 1700 people died.
The German Public recently protested and successfully blocked a large sequestration program by Vattenfall in North-Eastern Germany.