Can the coal industry ever become a partner to the renewable energy industry, searching for the higher good concerning this planet’s energy needs? With enough coal to last for over a century, is there even a need to worry about such matters — at least right now? Will King Coal eventually wither into an old bride’s maid?
On the renewables side of the marriage aisle, we see and hear plenty about all those glistening gems — from all sorts of wind and photovoltaic designs to scores of different biofuels that promise clean, green power, then forward to $19.6 million bets on nuclear fusion by people like Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s billionaire founder who says fusion will be a reality within four years. But in spite of everyone’s best-laid hopes and plans, making renewables the foundation block of the world’s energy supply is not going to happen anytime soon, and certainly not in the next two decades.
In spite of its massive bad press and a spate of lobbyists doing battle, coal remains the world’s energy king by a long shot. The bituminous stuff is meeting a demand that continues to expand, regardless of black lungs, methane leaks, global warming, and the stunning growth of renewables.
To this end, the World Coal Association (WCA) estimates demand for coal will grow 52 percent over the next 20 years, providing access to affordable energy for millions more people.
There is no disputing coal’s importance to the world’s population, providing multiple forms of heat, manufacturing power, and electricity. That the act of burning it imperils our human-friendly planetary system has served to create battlegrounds, not partnerships.
Those who want to eliminate coal from the present and near-future energy mix need to rethink the realities of this world’s energy infrastructure and how long it takes for even small changes to happen. The same can be said for those who argue that climate change is a fabrication. One hundred auditoriums full of climate change naysayers are still going to be hard-pressed to ignore the glaciers and snow covered mountain peaks they have seen vanish in recent years.
The world’s clean energy future requires vision and cooperation among all players, plus a willingness to compromise for the greatest good of all. As fast as new businesses and tools emerge for renewable and clean energy, the infrastructure and supply chain that can support all of that is not yet in place, especially the financial component.
Coal isn’t as cheap as dirt, but the price is right for a world demanding the cheapest energy it can get (in short-term, direct costs). Plus that infrastructure has taken over a century to construct — one that employs millions worldwide and features an extraordinary supply chain of railroads, boats, trucks, roadways, tax bases and financial centers.
What is needed now more than anything is collaboration intended to move the world’s energy infrastructure forward in a way that can address the second half of this century and beyond.
That collaboration has to include the coal industry, too, which is making some strides forward. The WCA reports on its website that over 53 million tons of CO2 are being stored underground, an amount that increases every second. The organization estimates that without carbon capture and storage programs in place, climate change action will cost some $4.7 trillion between 2010 and 2050.
In addition, last October, the European Commission, the Asian Development Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank launched the Global Methane Initiative (GMI) “to urge stronger international action to fight climate change while developing clean energy and stronger economies.”
In the development that new energy infrastructure collaboration like this is timely, and essential. It hastens the building process.
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