In 1988, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up to investigate and document the dangers associated with CO2 which is released from fossil fuel combustion, such as coal.
Since then, many papers and articles have been written and international meetings held to see if agreements can be made to mitigate this supposed problem for our planet - a problem not fully defined, nor even proven to any level of certainty.
In this context, coal has been set up as the general ‘public enemy’ Number One. Coal is an easy target; by its very nature it’s black, dusty and dirty; with less powerful lobby groups and influencers than other sectors, such as oil and natural gas. These sectors are often much less visible to the public eye and easier to disguise and dismiss as threat or cause.
Targets have been set to reduce CO2 emissions for the near future; and programmes are being introduced in developed countries on how to meet them. The goal? To shut down all coal burning power stations, followed by the source of the coal, the mines themselves.
Stress on Developing Continents and Countries
There are still many developing countries, the rising stars of tomorrow’s industrial world that rely on this affordable source of power generation to power their growing industries and are now being forced to comply with western politically driven often unrealistic targets. These countries, many on the African continent, are now driven allocate a significant portion of their fiscus on CO2 mitigation and reduction defined and sold by them – targeting shutting down coal use in any form, while this expenditure could be put to better use and is urgently needed to develop the countries’ infrastructure and large-scale industrial business that can improve these economies and add to job creation, improve the health system and reduce environmental pollution of the air, water and soil by noxious emissions and effluents. Until a reliable, new and reasonably priced base-load source of energy is found, coal is required.
Quickly and drastically reducing the use of coal by a large percentage, as has been mandated by some developed economies and their governments, and the Paris Accord, creates a serious problem. It would have negative effects on the social welfare of so many people in the energy industry and related sectors and many millions more people’s lives will be threatened because funds that could be used in infrastructure and other developmental requirements are now being deployed for CO2 mitigation?
In 2016, the five biggest coal importers in the world were India, China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. While the big five made up almost 70% or over 600 million tonnes of global imports, the Southeast Asia (SEA) market accounted for less than 8% or about 70 million tonnes of coal imports during the same period. However, according to data released by the IEA for the period between 2017 and 2018, the SEA market has doubled in size.
The region’s key coal users and importers include Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Even though Indonesia is the biggest coal exporter, supplying over 80% of the demand for the region, its domestic coal requirements are expected to impact the Asian demand and supply balance significantly in the coming decade by increasing its own demand.
While Vietnam already appeared on the map in 2016, Myanmar will also play a bigger role in the near future as coal production rapidly increases.
“Electricity is increasing its share in total energy consumption and coal is increasing its share in power generation”, said Laszlo Varro, head of the gas, coal and power markets division for the International Energy Agency (IEA). The vast majority of the 400 GW in power generation capacity to be added in SEA by 2040 will be coal-fired. That will raise coal’s share of the SEA power market to 50% from roughly 32%, while natural gas declines to 26% from approximately 44%.
About 700 million people now live in SEA and the region is expanding quickly, especially in terms of energy demand and as a result electricity generation. IEA Southeast Asia predicts that population grows modestly to 760 million people by 2040 but urbanization increases from 46% today to 60% until then. The GDP per capita will almost triple until 2040, and this is where energy demand must step in.
As a result of this soaring energy demand, environmental pressures are increasing. At the same time, the carbon foot print of SEA is only a fraction of that of Europe and the USA.
The IEA also reports similar trends and shares of total energy consumption for the African continent which, in population terms roughly approximates SEA. With these similarities in mind, the IEA predicts that 120 million people in Southeast Asia lack electricity, while over 270 million rely on wood and dung for cooking and heating, pollutants in itself. “From 2013 to 2030, the SEA region’s primary energy demand will almost double or increase by at least 80%.” The IEA notes. The “power pie” or electricity demand increases from 790TWh to 2.210TWh from 2013 to 2040.
That tripling in electricity demand will be primarily sourced from coal. Whilst renewables are expanding, their pace of growth is too slow to keep up with faster, more affordable thermal coal-fired power generation. Coal will be the fuel of choice. The material is easily available, the cheapest source of power and also the safest. All major SEA countries are constructing coal-fired power plants at a breath-taking pace. We predict that with a 40GWe energy shortage already prevalent in Southern Africa, a similar trend will emerge if the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) is ever to gain traction in Africa.
Coal’s share of electricity generation is expected to increase from about one third today to reach 50% by 2040. This means that the SEA will pull up the global average for coal use and significantly contribute to coal continuing to be the power source for the developing world. Again, renewables, including hydro will also grow but the staggering increased power demand cannot be met economically without the use of easily available, low-cost and safe coal.
*Alan Clegg is a non-executive chairperson and co-founder of Shumba Energy, a fast-growing energy development firm focussed on Botswana’s eastern coalfields. The second part of his debate piece will be published next week