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Coal essential in today’s emerging economies

Publishing Date : 06 May, 2019

Author : TSHEPISO GABOTLHOMOLWE

A report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) states that in today’s unstable economies coal remains essential worldwide. Until a reliable, new and reasonably priced base-load source of energy is found, coal is essential for growing economies, according to the report.


IEA notes that new energy technologies are being funded and developed to counter the reliance on coal and coal-fired power stations. Based on the data available, this could be a big mistake which would force energy companies to close down plants too early and increase the cost of power beyond what is economically viable. On the other hand it has been realised that Solar panels, geothermal wells, wind farms and tidal turbines are being installed to produce electricity. 


While these solutions are often portrayed as reliant green energy, geothermal and tidal turbines are only considered transient and cannot yet be used for base-load service which is driven mainly by coal; a key factor for a stable power to a city, town or industrial centre.  Solar produces no power at night and windmills only work when there is sufficient wind, while shutting down when the wind speed is too high.


In 2018, Minergy noted that coal demand continues to rise as it is still the most economical form of energy available. Regional end users are finding it difficult to source reliable and consistent supply as most producers are favouring the export market, they noted. According to Laszlo Varro, head of the gas, coal and power markets division, the resolution that can be applied on a global scale and is affordable and will immensely allow for large-scale economic use of solar and wind power. Varro adds that coal fuelled power is steady, still relatively cheap and runs continuously 24 hours a day. Therefore, there might not be a way around coal fuels for many decades to come.


According to the report, 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 as noted are many on the African continent and are now driven to allocate a significant portion of their fiscus on carbon dioxide (CO2 mitigation and reduction defined and sold by them – targeting shutting down coal use in any form.


While at 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. 


“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 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 percent from roughly 32 percent, while natural gas declines to 26 percent from approximately 44 percent.


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 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-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.


IEA cites that Coal’s share of electricity generation is expected to increase from about one third today to reach 50 percent by 2040. This is explained to mean 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, it is noted that 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.

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