A Wired article, Renewables Aren’t Enough. Clean Coal Is the Future shows just how accustomed our civilization is to plentiful fossil fuel energy.
[China’s GreenGen facility] is one of the world’s most advanced attempts to develop a technology known as carbon capture and storage. Conceptually speaking, CCS is simple: Industries burn just as much coal as before but remove all the pollutants. In addition to scrubbing out ash and soot, now standard practice at many big plants, they separate out the carbon dioxide and pump it underground, where it can be stored for thousands of years.
… Even though most of the basic concepts are well understood, developing reliable, large-scale CCS facilities will be time-consuming, unglamorous, and breathtakingly costly. Engineers will need to lavish time and money on painstaking calculations, minor adjustments, and cautious experiments. At the end, the world will have several thousand giant edifices that everyone regards as eyesores. Meanwhile, environmentalists have lobbied hard against the technology, convinced that it represents a sop to the coal industry at the expense of cleaner alternatives like solar and wind.
As I’ve opined before, every source of energy has advantages and disadvantages. Oil is incredibly portable and dense, but pollutes when spilled or burned. Natural Gas is less dirty to burn but harder to contain. Coal is less portable, less dense, and dirtier. Wind and photovoltaic solar are clean once running, but tend to be environmentally-damaging to build and only provide intermittent power. When Nuclear Fission is good it is very, very good, but when it is bad it is horrid – for an incredibly long time – and it costs too much to build and dismantle. Nuclear fusion still doesn’t produce more energy than it uses.
Thermal Solar is excellent, but won’t support a high technology lifestyle.
Clean Coal … I just don’t know how we can sequester immense volumes of carbon dioxide gas underground without leaks. It seems like wishful thinking.