Coals Role in Providing United States Energy Security

America's economic engine is fueled primarily by fossil fuels, a trend that is expected to continue for several decades. Coal, oil, and natural gas supplied 85% of the nation's total energy, 69% of its electricity, and nearly all of its transportation fuels in 2002 [1]. The contribution of fossil fuels to the U.S. energy supply is expected to increase; the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) forecasts that fossil fuels will be supplying 90% of the nation's energy by 2020 because of projected growth in natural gas consumption. Of the ~97 quadrillion Btu of energy consumed in the United States in 2002, 23% (22.18 quadrillion Btu) was attributed to coal, while natural gas, petroleum, nuclear power, and renewable energy consumption was 24, 39, 8, and 6%, respectively [1]. The important role of fossil fuels, in general, and coal, in particular, in the U.S. energy picture is further illustrated in Figure 8-1, which depicts the contribution of coal to the various end-use sectors—transportation, residential, commercial, and industrial—along with the energy consumed to generate electricity. As discussed in Chapter 2 (Present, Past, and Future Role of Coal), coal is primarily used in the generation of electric power, and the contributions from coal as well as the various other energy sources for producing electricity are factored into the individual end-use sector graphs shown in Figure 8-1.

America's economic strength was established largely due to abundant and inexpensive energy. U.S. consumers benefit from some of the lowest electricity rates of any free-market economy, and coal has been a major contributor to the surge in electrification of the country; however, increasing electricity rates and natural gas prices are affecting most Americans. The volatility in natural gas prices and availability is becoming more troublesome as evidenced by the frequent episodes of low availability and high price. Rising crude oil prices are reflected in increased gasoline and heating oil prices, which create an economic strain on consumers. Conflicts in the

FIGURE 8-1. Distribution of energy consumption in the United States in 2000. (From DOE, National Energy Technology Laboratory Accomplishments by 2000, Office of Fossil Energy, Washington, D.C., September 2001.)

Middle East affect the world oil markets and prices and result in economic and emotional strains on U.S. citizens. Threats to the energy security of the United States include concerns of terrorist activities targeting nuclear power facilities and the oil and gas infrastructure, an ever-increasing dependency on oil and natural gas imports, an aging infrastructure (e.g., power transmission lines) or an insufficient infrastructure (e.g., natural gas pipelines), and low reserve capacity. Many of these issues can be addressed through the use of coal. This chapter discusses the contribution of coal to providing U.S. energy security. Specifically, it discusses the impact of volatile energy prices and fuel availability on the economy, the stability of coal prices and their economic impact, the use of natural gas rather than coal in power generation, the potential of coal to reduce the U.S. dependency on imported oil, the development of a coal-based hydrogen economy, and even the role of coal in providing security to the nation's food supply. The role of coal in international energy security and sustainable development is also discussed.

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