A Meditation on Power
January 9, 2009

Image Credit Fred Bruenjes (moonglow.net)

Image Credit Fred Bruenjes (moonglow.net)

Electrical power, that is. The “clean coal” companies want a few billion dollars of the Obama stimulus money to “invest” in more coal power plants for our country, which they claim will be “cleaner” than current coal plants and thus provide cheap power without hurting the environment. Nirmal had a great post a few weeks ago highlighting some of the deception behind the “clean” part of “clean coal”, which I recalled today when I read there was just another such ash spill in Alabama. Also, coal power is by far the biggest contributor to global warming – even more than those fearsome SUVs!

We shouldn’t build any more coal power plants at all. What should we do instead? Personally, I’m a big fan of solar power. Photovoltaic solar panels don’t emit any carbon or other pollution once they’re built (more on that some other time). Solar power is completely sustainable for as long as the sun keeps burning (about 5 billion more years). And, with current technology, it can easily provide all of the power America needs. I find that last statement surprises a lot of people, so I’ll walk through a simple calculation to back it up. This is one of my favorite arguments for solar power, and some of you may have heard it before, but for those who haven’t, it’s really worth following it through one time. And I guess I should warn that it contains some numbers and very basic math. Feel free to challenge assumptions in comments if you’d like.