By Benjamin Sporton, Chief Executive, World Coal Association and Dr. Sanjayan Velautham, Executive Director of the ASEAN Centre for Energy.
Across ASEAN, coal – and more specifically – high efficiency coal, is emerging as the fuel of choice. Projections forecast coal to increase its share in power generation from 32% in 2014 to 50% in 2040. This preference for coal among regional economies is explained by two factors: access and affordability.
Coal is widely available and therefore promotes power supply. High efficiency technology allows for uninterrupted electricity. It doesn’t require the development of complex infrastructure. Access to this reliable modern energy drives economic growth which promotes opportunity for local populations. China is a remarkable example of the role that affordable coal can play in improving access to energy and supporting economic development. Over the last three decades, according to World Bank estimates, China has lifted 600 million people out of poverty and connected 99% of its population to the electricity grid. The link between access to affordable power from coal, economic growth and prosperity is clear.
In addition to reliability, high efficiency coal is—and will continue to be—the most affordable option to meet electricity demand growth for many economies. Our joint research shows that over the next 20 years, ASEAN will require 800 terawatt hours of electricity, and advanced coal technology is an affordable option that would also reduce emissions significantly.
High efficiency coal technology reduces or eliminates pollutant emissions, such as oxides of sulphur and nitrogen and other particulate matter. Using the most efficient technology available clearly makes sense and is very much the low-hanging fruit of climate mitigation action.
Currently, however, there are limited financial and technological support opportunities available to assist the transition to more efficient coal. An international mechanism is required to accelerate construction of high efficiency coal projects.
In order to accelerate the achievement of the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris Agreement commitments, substantial investment in low emission coal technologies is essential. There needs to be international support from countries with experience in the transition, like Australia, Japan and China to step up cooperation on financing in order to accelerate the shift to cleaner coal plants.
Energy access and climate goals are not competing priorities. Cleaner coal technology demonstrates that countries can integrate environmental imperatives with the goals of universal energy access, energy security and socio-economic development.
All sources of energy have a role to play in meeting demands, both in developed and developing countries.
ASEAN’s Energy Equation: the role of low emission coal in driving a sustainable energy future was published on 17 May 2017.