In Coal We Trust: The Need For Coal Power In Asia

Tilak Doshi

From Forbes

Tilak Doshi

Energy I analyze energy economics and related public policy issues.

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Coal Fired Power Plant in Queensland’s coal basin Getty

The reigning narrative of impending global environmental catastrophe dominates the airwaves and print media. Short of a drastic reduction in the use of fossil fuels, it is asserted, we are fast approaching the “end of days”. The demonization of fossils fuels in general, and coal in particular, has been wrought under pressure from special interests groups and organized lobbies of the climate-industrial complex where aspects of economic reality are caricatured or presented out of context. Complex trade-offs in energy policy are spun into tales of spurious simplicity, leading to misleading conclusions. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the debate over the role of coal-fueled power generation in Asia.

Opposition to the building of coal power plants in the poorer countries has been justified by environmental activists, banks and multilateral development agencies such as the World Bank in two key ways. The first revolves around the claim that climate change mitigation programs carry “co-benefits” for public health in developing countries. The second utilizes the assertion that renewable energy such as solar and wind power are effective substitutes for centralized grid electricity generated by fossil fuels.

Climate change policy does not help the poor

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.

The myth of renewable energy

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.

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36 thoughts on “In Coal We Trust: The Need For Coal Power In Asia

  1. Common sense applied .
    Now , if only the rest of the world would join in … 😉

    • MarkW said “Renewable energy helps the poor alright. It helps them into an early grave.” Mark I am sure that you understand the to the Greenies that a feature not a problem. After all Greenies believe that there is about 7 billion people to many already here.

  2. Why do comments take so long to post ? JoNovas’ site does it in 15 seconds ….
    in Aus. ….. wordpress site …
    may we correctly assume that this issue is being addressed ?

    • SOB,

      Anthony’s comment moderation tools settings. Previous 60 minutes of Comments batch-post every hour, usually just after the hour at ~hh:02.

      • Thanks JOB .
        Suspected as much , but not my area , so wasn’t going to say so .
        It does detract from the conversation .

    • Transforming to birds that dominate the World ?

      Coal is an excellent raw material but maybe we will use liquid hydrocarbons in the future. Carbon cycle will exists as long as life.

    • Fortunately you are completely wrong. Solar and windmills are the dying industries, as their subsidies from unwilling taxpayers dry up. We are now seeing even some politicians waking up to their futility. The science community – well, the honest ones – have known this for years. It is mainly perpetuated by the dishonest or mentally-incompetent MSM! Here in New Zealand, we have to cope with an incompetent socialist government backed by ignorant Greenies, a lying television service, and woeful print press. However, their are glimmers of common sense occasionally!

        • Hi Tilak,

          Lots of common sense, any chance you could bang some poli’s heads together here in the UK?

          Mike’s comment (Mike Lowe June 9, 2019 at 9:54 pm) was, I think, in response to a previous comment (Arcticobserver June 9, 2019 at 8:38 pm) rather than about your article, which he does seem to very much agree with.

          • Oh ok then. Quite confusing then to follow the thread. I agree with your comments. I spent 8 years in NZ in the 1960s/80s and it was already drifting left then.

      • I thought Dino’s were Oil and Plants are Coal…But I guess with Coal to Oil anything is possible

  3. The fact that molten salt small nuclear reactors are cheaper than coal and can provide all of the power required bythe grid, peak and baseload, means that coal is anything but a required power generation technoogy.

    • Well gee, if you could provide me with the contact information of the public relations office for that molten salt plant I’d be ever so grateful. I’d love to schedule a tour; my sons would love it!

  4. The Synod of the Church of England is right behind this drive to reduce third world poverty by disinvesting in fossil fuels. Bravo, the heartless idiots

    • Divesting? Please divest by selling the shares cheaply to me.

      You can’t ‘divest” without selling the shares. To whom? Anyone? Someone has to buy them.

      If they really held to their green convictions, they would burn the shares, thus destroying the wealth. Oh, wait! That means the other shares would be worth more each and the profit would be split over fewer shareholders.

      It is really hard to destroy an industry you own, and almost impossible to destroy one you don’t.

  5. But while Politicians try to please both sides of the population at the same
    time. subsidies and forcing the utilities to accept renewable electricity, the
    problem will continue. The Greens tell us that renewable are now cheaper
    than coal which is of course a blatant lie, when all of the costs are taken into
    consideration. But that statement should be used by the politicians as a
    reason for cutting off the subsidies and telling the utilities that its up to
    them to decide if they accept the renewable electricity generation.

    Politically it will be better if just the subsidies are cut first. That will cause bankruptcies on the part of the renewable utilities, so better than actually cutting them off from the Grid.

    Expect a massive campaign that “”We must save the planet” and that any
    sacrifice is worthwhile.

    It must happen as for example only by reducing the cost of living, a major
    factor out there in the real world and borne by the general public in their big
    electricity bills , wall the high cost of living start to be reduced.

    And let us not forget that Industry also pays big power bills, and this cost of
    course is reflected in the cost of everything.
    ‘Labour’s answer, at least before the Federal election, was to tell us that all they needed to do was to wave their Magic wand, and the “”Sluggish wage growth “”” problem would cease to be.

    Australia is slowly going into a recession and only drastic measures such as
    reducing the high cost of energy will stop that happening.

    MJE VK5ELL

  6. The Australian (10 June2019) reports-

    ‘Victoria’s power grid faces fresh volatility, with a major coal unit knocked out in the Latrobe Valley for seven months, raising concern over supply during peak demand periods next summer.

    …experts warn the grid may now be stretched to breaking point. The outage will curtail one of four units at the state’s largest coal generator, which supplies 30 per cent of Victor­ia’s power needs, raising the potential for a repeat of January’s rolling outages.

    “The supply cut may put pressure on prices and will require the electricity grid operator to work closely with the nation’s largest generators to ensure sufficient supplies are available”, energy expert­ Tony Wood said.
    “Obviously losing more than 500 megawatts for most of the summer is bad news,” said Mr Wood, the Grattan Institute’s ­energy program director.
    “The Australian Energy Market Operator will be working even more closely with the generators to minimise any other outage risks.”’

    We live in interesting times again with our existing coal fired generators being run on sticky tape and string to eke the last drop of revenue out of them before being mothballed.

  7. ‘The first revolves around the claim that climate change mitigation programs carry “co-benefits” for public health in developing countries. The second utilizes the assertion that renewable energy such as solar and wind power are effective substitutes for centralized grid electricity generated by fossil fuels.’

    NEOCOLONIALISM.

    Countries decide what they want. It’s none of the environmentalists’ business. Whether the above “benefits” to interfering with countries are true or not DOES NOT MATTER. Interfering is wrong. No matter how much good you think you are doing.

    • I don’t know in what reality you’ve been living all your life but in this one here, developed/more advanced countries and western ones in particular have been interfering in underdeveloped/developing countries business for centuries. That’s how Australia came to be after all, as a prison colony where England dumped it’s criminals on the indigenous population.

      The fossil fuel industry interference in particular has been substantial and not at all as positive as you seem to think. Renewables can’t really do worse and almost certainly will do better overall, that’s why developing nations are in fact embracing them.

      In many cases, the best thing you can do is something as simple as providing energy for light at night in underdeveloped countries. Some solar and a small battery with LEDs will do that just fine and without any additional costs will run for as long as a decade. Fossil fuels on the other hand are more likely to be used by the local armies and dictators to oppress the populace while the poor of that nations tend to get more of the pollution.

  8. If I am correct, fossil fuel fired power plants operate more efficiently when the outdoor temperature is low and solar works better when there is a lot of sun so the solar cells should be installed preferably in India and the coal fired in Northern Europe and North America?

    • Perhaps there should be a Global Grid with ALL solar panels being located in India and the Sahara and ALL Battery Backups located in China and all Wind Offshore in the North Atlantic and Australia. All their population can be employed maintaining those facilities and the rest of the world would benefit.
      It would eliminate the need for Nigerian Princes seeking to hide their fortunes in foreign banks and constant calls from India seeking to repair Microsoft windows or informing us that the IRS is filing charges.

  9. There are several things about coal that definitely help poor people in Asia. Electricity is obviously one of them.

    Another is the fact that without coal, many, many people would die from preventable diseases and chronic underheating. There are about 500,000,000 people in Eurasia dependent on coal for heating and cooking. Problems associated with the use of coal stem from the poorly designed combustors used to burn it and inefficient or improper installations. Typical coal stoves have been described variously as “a box with a chimney” and “an mbaula with a chimney” (a description only comprehensible to South Africans). An mbaula is a perforated 25-litre metal bucket in which sub-bituminous coal is burned outdoors.

    So don’t think everyone is sitting around wishing someone else would do something. Several countries whose poor people are dependent on cheap, easily stored, and readily available coal have been working on how to burn various coals properly, with very low accidental emissions (like black carbon, carbon monoxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and PM2.5).

    Another publication from the World Bank was posted on line a couple of days ago describing one carefully scrutinized result in one of the poorest Asian countries. It is free for download here:

    https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/31774/Beyond-the-Last-Mile-Piloting-High-Efficiency-Low-Emissions-Heating-Technologies-in-Central-Asia.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

    Check Table 1 and see what impacts can be made by a group of patient researchers successfully working out how to help millions of people access affordable technology they can make and manage themselves. These activities have been supported by several institutions on a long term basis, coordinated largely by people in South Arica, Mongolia and Canada. The hot spots for this research are now in China and South Africa.

    Lots of negative things are mouthed about the World Bank and its activities but I am not convinced those who do so are really in touch with what happens on the ground. It’s a big planet. There is room for innovation and out-of-the-(fire)box-thinking.

    • “but I am not convinced those who do so are really in touch with what happens on the ground.”

      No they’re too busy subsidising important things like solar panels windmills and EVs to be bothered with such menial drudgery. You have to thing big with showcase stuff as that’s where it’s at with the real Green man’s burden.

  10. Reading the page linked in this article, renewables struggle to match the cost of EXISTING coal plants, but are competitive against NEW coal plants. i.e. existing = cost of coal + maintenance… versus new = cost of coal + maintenance + capital/financing of a new plant.

    So it’s economical to let existing coal plants run through their full 30-40yr life, but more economical to build renewables than new coal.

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