The National Coal Council has released the findings of a major new study on coal prepared at the request of former DOE Secretary Hazel O'Leary, which found that while the generation of electricity...
could cause some important local perturbations on a small scale within the next decade.
Applications: Expect Continued Improvements
The U.S. electric power industry is undergoing dramatic restructuring. Change is already significant and will continue. Some might argue that that situation negates the concept of an energy plateau, but I think not. Restructuring and consolidation will continue to evolve for many years, because the exact form of the new marketplace has yet to be defined, and because government and industry will take time to adapt. The end result is likely to be an agile industry, providing abundant quantities of low-cost, reliable electric power, primarily from gas and coal. While the pain, chaos, and upheaval inside the industry will be considerable, the general public will see little of it and will probably not be very concerned. From the outside, the energy plateau will appear little changed.
Transportation. On the transportation side, oil-based products will continue as the fuels of choice for air travel, heavy transportation, and automobiles. For those applications, oil products are convenient, economical, and safe. Thankfully, they will be with us for quite some time, because worldwide petroleum resources are enormous. Natural gas is making some inroads in transportation, but it seems unlikely to capture a significant portion of the market in the next decade because of cost, convenience, and the sheer size of the transportation fleet.
Turning to personal transportation, electric vehicles (EVs) are generating considerable debate. Some state governments are considering requiring specific levels of EV sales at various times in the future. Nevertheless, EVs will not become a significant factor for a decade or more because 1) batteries do not yet have the cost and performance that most of the public demands, 2) the internal combustion engine can still be further improved; and 3) the pressure to introduce EVs comes primarily from government mandate rather than marketplace pull. What we have is a classic battle wherein some well-meaning people are trying to force an uneconomic option into a market dominated by economics and pragmatists.
In another area of personal transportation, the government is cooperating with the Big Three
automakers in the so-called Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV). Their goal is a mid-sized vehicle with three times the fuel economy that exists today. The participants are making good progress, but production prototypes are not due until 2002, so widespread use will not come for many years thereafter, assuming success. Incidentally, the preferred approach seems to be an electric-drive, hydrocarbon-fueled, hybrid power system with some kind of internal combustion engine to charge and possibly augment electrical storage.
End-use Technologies. Efficient energy end-use technologies will continue to evolve at a moderate rate because improved economics and environmental pressures will continue to make them attractive. New electrotechnologies for existing or new applications will continue to make steady inroads, replacing nonelectric systems because of attractive economics, convenience, and low environmental impact. Increased electrification should continue to evolve for the same reasons. While important, these efficiency improvements taken together will exert no major effect on the nation's energy system in the next