Pollution Abatement

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Sulfur and nitrogen are captured by passing the hot gases from the combustion chamber through filters and water baths or by selective catalytic converters, thus removing them from the heat passed up the smokestack. The fine ash from the burning process is also filtered by a huge vacuum system with bags able to filter particles as fine as face powder. The concern about emissions of mercury is leading to the design of new systems capable of capturing the mercury vapor before it is released from the smokestack.

Environmental air quality standards are continually changing as new information about potential harm is published. It is a continual struggle between electric power generators and regulators to write and meet pollution standards that protect the environment and human health. Changes to a modern coal-based generator or even a natural gas generator cost thousands of dollars per megawatt of generating capacity. This means that every update, which must be designed onsite, as there are no standardized units, results in millions of dollars in additional costs. A steam generation system is designed to last at least fifty years, with initial investments close to a billion dollars, but because continually shifting requirements for pollution reduction systems cannot be incorporated in its design at the time of construction, the costs of later upgrades are almost inevitably incurred.

Electricity consumption has continued to rise approximately 2 to 5 percent per year as more and more electrical appliances are required to meet daily needs. Paying attention to the efficiency of each appliance, from computers to air conditioners, helps reduce the rate of increase. The higher the efficiency, the less total growth in individual consumer electricity use. More efficient lights, such as compact fluorescent bulbs, can effectively reduce the per capita use of electricity. Most electrical equipment manufacturers now provide comparisons of various appliances, machines, or other power equipment so informed consumers can make efficient choices. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a program called Energy Star that rates the efficiency of various appliances, computers, and other equipment. Those manufacturers that are compliant with high-efficiency standards receive an Energy Star stamp of approval.

Deregulation offers opportunities to independent power producers developing green electric power companies, for example, wind, biomass, solar, geothermal, and hydroelectricity generation, that wish to assure consumers their power source will not contribute to the increasing consumption of fossil fuels or emission of greenhouse gases. Such opportunities will, however, continue to come at a slightly increased price over the next decade before technologies to produce green power become more efficient, more

2002 ELECTRICITY NET GENERATION BY FUEL SOURCE

2002 ELECTRICITY NET GENERATION BY FUEL SOURCE

□ Coal, 1.9 billion

□ Geothermal Energy,

□ Petroleum, 108 million

14 million

□ Natural Gas, 595 million

□ Wood, 39 million

□ Other Gas and

■ MSW and Landfill Gas,

21 million

Waste Heat Plants,

15 million

□ Other Waste, 3.3 million

□ Nuclear Energy, 753 million

Wind Energy, 5 million

■ Hydroelectric

Solar Energy, Electric

Pumped Storage,

Power Sector, 844,000

5.5 million

Renewable Energy,

■ Conventional

358 million

Hydroelectric Power,

274 million

generated power of this kind is widely available, and the costs of fossil fuels become more prohibitively expensive.

From 1950 to 1999, the most recent year for which data are available, annual world electric power production and consumption rose from slightly less than 1,000 billion to 14,028 billion kWh. The most commonly used form of power generation also changed. In 1950 about 66 percent of electricity came from thermal (steam-generating) sources and approximately 33 percent from hydroelectric sources. In 1998 thermal sources produced 63 percent of the power, but hydropower had declined to 19 percent, and nuclear power accounted for 17 percent of the total. The growth in nuclear power slowed in some countries, notably the United States, in response to concerns about safety. Nuclear plants generated 20 percent of U.S. electricity in 1999; in France, the world leader, the figure was 76 percent. See the pie chart for 2002 information on the net generation of electricity by fuel source. see also Abatement; Acid Rain; Air Pollution; Cleanup; Coal; Energy; Energy, Nuclear; Fossil Fuels; Petroleum; Renewable Energy.

Gary R. Evans

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