Energy Reduction as a Coal Power Alternative

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Recently several coal power generation stories have been in the headlines. Some have discussed the slew of advertisements we’ve seen, particularly during the Presidential debates, about “Clean Coal.” More recently there has been lots of coverage in the cleantech and energy worlds about the DOE’s pulling the plug on a project called FutureGen. Here in North Carolina, final approval has been granted for Duke Energy to construct an 800 megawatt coal plant called Cliffside.

There are plenty of more informed and opinionated folks talking about the need for or alleged evils of coal power. I would like to avoid that fight and make a different point.

The 800 MW of electricity generated by Cliffside will shake out to around 4 Million megawatt hours of energy over the course of a year. It takes about 10 megawatt hours of electrical energy to power the average home in America for one year. So, 4,000,000/10 tells us that Cliffside will power about 400,000 average American homes… fewer homes in North Carolina though since we consume more energy than average. Using the real numbers, Cliffside will generate about 7% of the residential demand of North Carolina.

You know what else could accommodate 7% of our residential demand? Energy efficiency! If North Carolinians discover how easy it is to shave 7% off of their energy use, we can eliminate the need for the next Cliffside altogether. Everybody wins. Duke Energy doesn’t have to fight the environmentalists to stay alive, nor do they have to increase our rates to pay for new construction. Rate payers get smaller bills and an opportunity to make a difference.

If we run the numbers on FutureGen and replace the $1B of DOE money invested with $1B of installed programmable thermostats, we find that energy efficiency (in the form of programmable thermostats) could make up for 24 times as much energy as FutureGen would have generated. Here are the numbers:

  • FutureGen was planned to generate 275 MW or 1.4M megawatt hours
  • $1B buys 33M thermostats at $30 each
  • 33M homes x 10 MWh x 10% energy reduction = 33M megawatt hours
  • 33 / 1.4 = 24

I understand that distributing, programming and installing that many thermostats might be a crazy proposition. It’s a fun thought experiment though.

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