WHY COAL IS NOT A VIABLE ENERGY RESOURCE?

WHY COAL IS NOT A VIABLE ENERGY RESOURCE?

Considered for a long time as one of the most precious resources on the planet, coal has been used for a large variety of reasons. But as fuel, it seemed to render itself as priceless. Until recent years, when it has endured dire criticism by environmental and healthcare advocates.

Green energy seems to downgrade it, as it becomes cheaper and largely available. But oldschool industrialists don’t like the idea very much, especially because it’s changing the way economy works and feels. Why change something that has been going well for some hundred years now, to something that’s new? That’s the main question.

As coal extraction and use is heavily based on science, more researchers and scientists come forward to testify that coal was viable, yes, but it also polluted the environment. At this point – which some call “the point of no return” – research stating that coal is bad for the environment and for human health, is overwhelming.

WE KNEW ABOUT COAL’S INFLUENCE ON CLIMATE CHANGE FOR A CENTURY

106 years ago, a note was published in a New Zealand paper, predicting that Earth’s temperature would consistently rise because of 7 billion tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere, due to coal consumption. The original story was titled “Remarkable Weather of 1911: The Effect of the Combustion of Coal on the Climate — What Scientists Predict for the Future,” by Francis Molena.

At the time Molena’s story was published, research already predicted the effects of coal combustion on climate change, as the subject was studied as early as 1882 – when H.A. Phillips published “Pollution of the Atmosphere” in the Nature journal. The New York Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer also published articles concerning CO2 levels impacting the climate, more than a hundred years ago, Jeff Nichols – historian at the University of Illinois – said to Quartz.

“The furnaces of the world are now burning about 2,000,000,000 tons of coal a year. When this is burned, uniting with oxygen, it adds about 7,000,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere yearly. This tends to make the air a more effective blanket for the earth and to raise its temperature. The effect may be considerable in a few centuries,” stated the 1912 newspaper clip.

THE COAL TREND IS COMING TO AN END

After a decline in coal prices and demands in 2014 – which led analysts to conclude that it entered a terminal phase – coal prices started to rebound in 2016, the demand heavily increased in 2017. While prices continued to rise throughout 2018, coal producers registered sustained profits. In Europe, USA and Canada, coal demands remain low, as electricity growth demand is low. But in developing countries in Asia, the coal demand is still expected to be more resilient.

China is by far the world’s largest coal consumer and has increased its coal-fired electricity generation throughout 2017 and 2018. India, which became the world’s second-largest coal consumer in 2015, is the single largest source of global demand growth in the New Policies Scenario. Pushing strongly to expand the renewable alternatives in its power mix, India’s growth in electricity demand still means the doubling of coal-fired power by 2040.

In the New Policies Scenario, coal demand flattens at around 5 400 million tons of coal equivalent, as falling consumption in China (-15%), European Union (-65%) and United States (-30%) is balanced by rising demand in India (+120%) and Southeast Asia (+120%).

But the policy priority to improve urban air quality sustains the push for renewable power solutions. So, developing economies will finally need to align to the trend.

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