Glenn Kellow, Peabody Energy.
With global leaders agreeing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a much greater discussion is needed about energy solutions to deliver reliable, affordable and low-carbon electricity. In the weeks following the Paris summit, all of us must recognise that why we need energy is as important as how we supply it.
Access to affordable energy is crucial for improved family budgets and stronger GDP, and a balanced energy portfolio is vital given growing electricity needs. Today the world uses twice as much electricity than it used 25 yrs ago.
Our need for power becomes even more pronounced when one considers the billions of people in emerging economies that still have no access or inadequate access to modern energy. For these families, there is no enduring light, no refrigerators to keep food fresh and no clean, safe way to warm their homes.
As energy leaders, our charge is to expand energy access for families living without power, maintain a reliable supply to satisfy existing needs and plan for long-term growth, which points to coal’s important role in the broad mix of fuels given its scale, availability and low cost. Advanced coal technologies are a ready-today solution to satisfy these needs and accelerate the transition to low-carbon energy systems. I believe that there are three core steps toward this goal; and I’d like to elaborate on each one:
First, turn coal into electricity, which can lift hundreds of millions from energy poverty and the health tragedies of indoor air pollution from cooking and heating with open fires. Step one in reducing key emissions and improving health, and longevity, for millions should be extending the elevating hand of electricity to those who lack it.
Step two is using today’s high-efficiency, low-emissions (HELE) coal-fuelled generation technologies to drive down carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. There is a large build out of these plants underway globally with more than 700 GW of advanced coal generation online or under construction. China leads the way with about 55% of the world’s fleet.
These technologies have a smaller environmental footprint, achieving as much as a 25% reduction in a plant’s CO2 emission rate. Said another way, moving the current average global efficiency rate of coal-fuelled power to HELE levels could deliver the equivalent environmental benefit of reducing India’s annual CO2 emissions to zero.
Notably, when HELE plants are equipped with advanced emission controls, they achieve key emission rates in the US that are 75% below the existing fleet. We’re seeing enormous environmental improvement with this technology right now.
My final point is the need to advance policies and investments to commercialise carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, which offer the best large-scale solution to capture CO2 emitted from energy, as well as industrial processes.
I was pleased to chair a National Coal Council study this past year on CCS, which was conducted at the request of the US Secretary of Energy through the Council’s advisory capacity on coal policy and technology. The study calls for levelling the playing field for CCS to achieve policy parity with other low-carbon options, such as solar and wind. Ultimately this would lead to near-zero emissions from coal, which is recognised by global leaders as essential to our carbon goals. The International Energy Agency has said that CCS must contribute one-sixth of total emission reductions by 2050.
That is a significant challenge, given there are currently only 14 large-scale CCS projects in operation globally, including one in the power sector, with another eight under construction, which will bring online two more in the power sector. Since 2007, CCS investment has been around US$13 billion compared to roughly US$1.8 trillion for renewable power generation technologies over the same timeframe, according to the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute. Much greater investment and deployment of large-scale CCS projects are needed.
As we look ahead, we must put in place a technology path for long-term improvement in carbon emissions that will enable the world to use more energy, while keeping electricity available and affordable.
Advanced HELE technologies and ultimately CCS are the right approach and a major part of a low-carbon energy future.
Glenn Kellow is President and CEO of Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company and a global leader in sustainable mining, energy access and clean coal solutions.
Edited by Harleigh Hobbs