India is reopening 100 coal mines to ensure that their electrification program stays on course in the face of new realities. International coal prices has more than doubled since the start of 2022, so coal mining is again profitable.
One would think that the world is trying to reduce the number of coal plants. Not so!
Australia has at least one ally in trying to save the world, the United states of America! California has already eliminated their coal plants, but they are also a great importer of electricity, much of it produced from coal. In the next ten year the U.S. utilities plan to shut down or change the fuel on over 200 coal fired plants, 48 in 2022 alone. Meanwhile , coal is getting scarce. There will be spot shortages this year.
There will be brownouts and rotating blackouts this summer, especially in California and the mid-west.
Natural Gas prices has more than doubled from around $3 per Mega BTU to over $8, while spot price in Europe is over $26 per MBTU. To quote Barack Obama: “Electricity prices will naturally skyrocket”. This means electricity prices have only begun their rise.
The National Electric grids are aging and under increasing stress. The Biden administration has one solution. Commandeering American industry to make more solar panels with components made nearly exclusively from China and lower the import tariffs on solar panel components. California is already producing too much solar power if the wind is also blowing, but not during times of greatest demand, leading to a desperate need for pumped storage or large, very expensive battery banks. California has already given its first warning: Don’t charge your electric vehicles now, or the whole grid will go down. See here.
Yet there is hope. We can switch our electric grid to nuclear energy, but not the dominant Uranium 235 nuclear plants that requires evacuation zones, lots of cooling water and a large regulatory overhead to ensure their safety. No, instead go back to the original source of nuclear power, before making nuclear bombs became the driving source of nuclear development. Thorium based nuclear power, especially the Liquid Fluoride molten salt Thorium Reactor (LFTR). It breeds more fuel than it uses by about 3%, and it generates 0.01% of the nuclear waste of a Uranium 235 plant. It is more efficient and inherently safe. My preference would be to make them in an assembly line and deliver them on standard trucks rather than build them on site. LFTR reactors does not need water for cooling. My preference would be a 100 MW reactor with the molten salt containing the fissile material separated from the cooling system, which could be either gas or molten lead. They could then be spread out over the country with no need for water, be placed near population centers since there is no need for evacuation zones. This would make it possible to have local grids, eliminating the need to expand the national grid.
And with an assembly line production the core units can be delivered in three standard size containers. The total cost including power generation and the permanent enclosure will be less than two dollars per watt, and fuel cost is essentially nil, since Thorium is already mined in excess quantities in rare earth mining.
I do want to save coal for important uses, such as making chemicals and fertilizer, and in the future to produce aviation fuel. By all means, switch to electric vehicles, but not until the electric grid is converted from Coal and Natural Gas to nuclear!