Think coal demand’s on the decline because of climate change concerns? Think current climate change policy proposals are good for third world countries? Think renewable energy can replace fossil fuels? Energy Economist Tilak Doshi challenges your belief systems in his Forbes article called “In Coal We Trust: The Need For Coal Power In Asia”.
Climate Change Policy, As Currently Offered, Is Not Good For Poor Countries
The popular media, or what’s left of it, seems to think climate change policy, such as it is, is good for Asia. A number of sources say that’s not so, many only offer ways poorer countries can “adapt” to economic loss, and Tilak Doshi explains:
“The claim that aggressive climate change mitigation programs helps the poor is egregiously misleading. Modern coal plants are a success story, as pollutants emitted have fallen dramatically with technological improvements over the past several decades. Key pollutants that adversely affect human health include carbon monoxide, lead, sulfur dioxide (SO2), oxides of nitrogen (NOX), ground level ozone and particulate matter (PM). A new pulverized coal plant, with flue gas scrubbers, fabric filters, catalytic reduction and other control equipment and processes, reduces NOX by 83%, SO2 by 98% and PM by 99.8% compared to a similar plant without such pollution control features, according to the US Department of Energy.
Ambient air pollution in both urban and rural areas in developing countries is a real problem, but it is primarily due to the indoor burning of solid biomass in cooking and heating. The use of charcoal, wood, dung and crop residues within households is caused by the lack of access to grid electricity and modern fuels such as LPG. The World Health Organisation reports that close to 4 million people die prematurely from illness attributable to indoor air pollution each year. The real solution, as apparent in the experience of the now developed countries, is to remove the need for using traditional biomass by providing affordable electricity and cleaner fuels. Coal power plants also lay the basis for improved public health with adequate clean water supply and refrigeration for food supply chains and the storage of vaccines in hospitals.
Renewable Energy Can’t Help Us, Yet
It’s also all over the media that renewable energy can replace fossil fuels – like turning a switch. And the fake news is all over the place: CNN claims that coal is under pressure from renewables and points to a government report, which, if one actually reads it, says nothing about either industry.
Tilak Doshi fires back with this in Forbes:
The second misleading claim is that intermittent sources of renewable energy can replace the need for grid-supplied power based on fossil fuels. An endless litany of “green” success stories permeate the mainstream media with the erroneous believe that that wind and solar power are “already competitive” with fossil fuels. Rigorous economic analyses of the hidden costs of unreliable, weather-dependent solar and wind power have countered such claims as an exercise in magical thinking. According to data reported by energy generators to regulatory authorities in the US, wind and solar power are two to three times more expensive than existing coal or gas-fuelled power.
Perhaps the best response to the renewable energy hype is provided by the example of Dharnai, a small village in India’s Bihar state, which lacked access to the country’s electricity grid. In 2014, Greenpeace activists set up a solar-powered microgrid for the village to much fanfare. Almost immediately, problems emerged with the load put on the village solar “grid” as households began to hook appliances such as rice cookers, electric water heaters, irons, space heaters and air coolers. On the day of inauguration of the solar power system in the village, its inhabitants protested with banners stating “we want real electricity, not fake electricity”. As explained by the reporter at the location, “By ‘real’, they meant power from the central grid, generated mostly using coal. By ‘fake’, they meant solar”. In wonderful irony, the embarrassed government VIPs present for the gala opening of the Greenpeace-promoted solar showpiece ensured that the village was shortly connected to the coal-fired power grid.
In all, Tilak Doshi does a great job of attacking the fake news, or some of it, surrounding the coal industry. (He should take on the fake news around the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal Phil Tagami and ITS are developing.) Good economic development is understanding how to engineer industrial change and technological improvement, not pushing people out of jobs to satisfy a political effort to make certain renewable energy companies seem more valuable than they are.
Doshi does not deny climate change itself, he just gives us a sane look at the truth.