Despite losing its dominant position here, coal remains the world’s primary fuel for electricity generation. For example, three-quarters of the world’s steel is produced with coal. Hundreds of new coal plants are in the pipeline or are already under construction, mostly in Asia. They are feeding the growing energy appetites of rapidly urbanizing and industrializing nations with expanding middle classes. From Vietnam to Bangladesh, India, and China, coal is the energy foundation upon which these economies are thriving and growing.
Investment in coal is happening alongside investment in renewable energy. China, the world’s largest producer of wind and solar power, also accounts for more than half of the world coal consumption. Rather than pivoting away from coal generation, China intends to build 250 gigawatts of new coal capacity to help support the post-coronavirus economic recovery. That capacity is larger than the entire existing U.S. coal fleet.
Coal’s global importance and irreplaceability need to be reflected in our own energy policy. In fact, coal technology should be a focal point of energy research, development, and deployment. The pivot to exorbitantly expensive renewable energy seen in Germany, where electricity has been described as a luxury good, or here at home in California, isn’t going to cut it elsewhere. Don’t expect most nations to abandon their energy assets, be it power plants or their existing electricity grids, to reduce carbon emissions.
The addition of low-emission energy technology will come as a complement to further investment and reliance on fossil fuels, not in place of them. Why? Affordability, security, and reliability remain the foremost energy concerns of most countries.
If coal is here to stay — the data is clear that it is — energy and climate policies need to lean into that reality. The United States, after all, possesses the world’s largest coal reserves. Developing and deploying next-generation, low-emissions coal technologies shouldn’t just be a pillar of a globally replicable approach to emissions reduction. It should be recognized as a tremendous market opportunity.
Important work is being done at the Department of Energy to further carbon capture, utilization, and storage, or CCUS. The CoalFIRST program, designed to develop a new type of modular, nimbler, and near-zero emissions coal plant that can better pair with renewable sources of energy, is also encouraging. But these efforts, while vital, don’t stack up to the scale and need of the challenge.
The U.S. is pouring taxpayer money into…
Read More: Clean coal technologies should be harnessed for post-virus recovery and beyond