Environment

Purdue University researchers predict lower electricity rates for homeowners and the end of coal power in Indiana as the state’s energy sector grapples with the demands of a changing climate.

Indiana is the eighth largest green house gas emitter among states, but as energy demands change and coal fired power plants reach the end of their lifespans, researchers conclude that coal will be replaced by natural gas, wind and solar by 2080, according to a Purdue Impact Assessment released Tuesday.

The Hoosier state’s climate has already changed, becoming warmer, wetter and more humid over the last century, according to the report. But as climate impacts continue, the state’s winter and springs are expected to become even warmer with more frequent rains, as summer and fall become drier, and of course, hotter.

“This is an opportunity for the energy industry to look at some of the implications of climate change for their energy demands placed on them in the future,” said Jeffrey Dukes, report co-author and director of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center. “And to think about whether there is anything they should or shouldn’t be doing to prepare for that.”

The state’s annual average temperatures are expected to rise as much as 5 to 6 degrees by 2050, and as much as 10 degrees by the end of the century, according to the report.

Changing Demand

Researchers anticipate the changing weather patterns will affect people’s electricity usage. Homeowners are expected to use less heat in the winter, but more air conditioning in the summer to combat the warmer temperatures.

Residential energy usage will likely decrease as much as 3.5 percent as Hoosiers use less heat and more air conditioning, according to the report.

At the same time, energy demands for commercial businesses are expected to increase about 5 percent by 2050 because buildings use more energy for cooling than heating.

However, researchers conclude the changing energy demand will only have a small impact on the state’s future energy supply mix. That mix will be determined by trends in future fuel and technology prices.

Changing Supply

Even as coal-burning power plants continue to emit greenhouse gases that hasten climate change, the warming weather will have little impact on the projected future energy supply, according to the report.

Indiana is expected to use about 65 percent coal and 35 percent natural gas by 2050.

However, long-term economic trends project a shift away from coal. Researchers say that by 2058, all of Indiana’s coal-fired power plants will have reached the end of their lifespans. As coal plants get older, they require increasing operational and maintenance costs – just look at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s recent decision to close the coal-fired unit at the Paradise Fossil Plant in Muhlenberg County.

“Coal is basically being priced out of the market,” said Leigh Raymond, a Purdue professor of political science and the report’s lead author. “Natural gas has already cut coal significantly based on price, and renewables have become much cheaper recently. If those trends continue, which the highest-quality predictions seem to indicate, then coal will likely disappear from the energy mix.”

As coal power wanes, researchers say energy form natural gas and renewables will take its place. How much room there is for solar and wind energy, will depend largely on the future prices of natural gas, researchers said. The higher gas prices go, the faster renewables would take its place, according to the report.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.