Wind energy has survived the fiscal cliff (above) as a one-year extension of the production tax credit was sneaked into the resolution that passed Congress. Thus all the strum-und-drang of the past few months has once again amounted to nothing. The industry will live year-to-year and windmills will continue to go up on the promise that the tax breaks will obviate any need to make wind energy profitable or useful. Lots of other energy sweeteners made it into the bill as well, with electric vehicles, biodiesel and energy-efficient appliances also getting their tax breaks. It’s all temporary, however, and lobbyists are already lining up for the next big tax overhaul.
2012 was a big year for natural gas all around. Both the Marcellus and Utica Shales continue to swell in productivity with Ohio gaining 39,000 new jobs as a result of the development. Gas’s role in home heating is expanding and entrepreneurs and inventors are exploring all kinds of new ways to employing the abundant supplies. One of the Staten Island Ferries will begin running on natural gas shortly and Sasol is building a gas-to-diesel plant in Louisiana. Nature complains that methane leaks are eroding gas’s green credentials but Vindy.com notes that the industry is exploring new ways of recycling the brine required by fracking and cutting flaring, a wasteful practice that draws constant complaint.
While the U.S. and Europe move toward natural gas, however, the rest of the world is rushing toward coal. Coal’s share of the world energy mix is not at an all-time high. India has just let out 17 blocks for coal development and one of the Tata Power Company's power plants is actually converting from natural gas back to coal. China’s coal imports also continue to climb and Tanzania may become an exporter. Not good news for those concerned about global warming.
In the U.S., coal had a not-so-big year, although the long-term prospects may be brighter. Coal from the Powder River Basin is not making its way to China, although Slate notes that eastern coal mines are poorly positioned to join the export trade. Kentucky was able to cut coal mine deaths from 8 to 4 in 2012 and Bloomberg takes a moment to reflect how much worse everything was in the coal industry in 1932. In that year a single blast in Kentucky killed 23 miners, with one family losing six sons.
Finally, geothermal energy seems poised for progress as Oregon maps its resources and Australia hopes to kickstart its industry. Foro, a Littleton, Colorado company, says it has invented inexpensive laser drills that could revolutionize the industry. And MIT scientists are even talking about tapping volcanos. Altogether, 2013 looks like a promising year for geothermal.