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Coal’s Demise Is Fueling A Wave Of Green Energy Solutions

Michael Kern

The slow and painful death of the coal industry is creating some interesting new opportunities for green energy solutions, with industrious capitalists turning ex-coal-fired power plants into renewable energy hubs, data centers and more. 

Coal is still the largest source of electricity on the planet, mainly because it is abundant and cheap. It's also one of the largest sources of global greenhouse gas emissions. And as the climate change crisis grows more dire by the day, investors are looking ahead, focusing on greener investments themselves, or leveraging their stakes in fossil fuel giants to push for greater diversification away from oil, coal and gas. 

Not only are investors turning their backs on coal, but renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are also quickly becoming more competitive. In fact, in Europe, the United States and China, renewables are now cheaper than coal - by a lot. And now, the industry is facing another challenge: COVID-19. 

Durand D’souza, a data scientist at Carbon Tracker, explains, “Coal power plants, which are already under economic stress across the world, will subsequently have reduced utilization rates and therefore will become even less economically viable.”

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It's a perfect storm for coal, and it is forcing more and more coal-fired plants to close their doors. 

Breathing Life Into Shuttered Coal Plants 

For the past century, coal-fired power plants have played a major role in the world's electricity market. They are completely intertwined with the U.S. power grid, in particular, meaning that decoupling the plants from the grids could be costly and time-consuming. That's why some ambitious industrialists are stepping in to make the most out of a bad situation. 

Companies and organizations throughout the United States are creating new systems to redevelop abandoned fossil-fueled plants

In Chicago, for example, developers are planning to build a massive data center at the old Fisk Generating coal-fired power plant. The shuttered plant is part of a larger initiative focusing on a coal-free Chicago, and presents a unique opportunity to push the city into a greener tomorrow. 

And in nearby Independence, Missouri, the city's utilities arm received a pair of proposals for the possibility of repurposing its shuttered Blue Valley Power Plant. One of the offers proposes the installation of 50 MW of battery storage. The other envisions manufacturing biofuel at the site.

By Michael Kern for Oilprice.com

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