Sunday, July 30, 2017

Energy Poverty Is a Real Problem.  Coal Is a Bogus Solution. - by David Roberts

Coal only makes global poverty worse.

Some 1.2 billion people around the world lack access to electricity.  2.8 billion burn charcoal, wood, or other biomass to cook and heat their homes.  Lack of access to clean, reliable energy services, or "energy poverty," is a terrible problem for those who face it, leading to hours of drudgery gathering fuels and high mortality from indoor pollution (which kills around 4 million people a year).

Energy poverty stands in the way of better health, better education, and better jobs. Development experts increasingly agree that there is no way to end extreme poverty without making energy access universal.  That’s what the UN and the World Bank have set out to do by 2030 with the Sustainable Energy for All initiative.

Meanwhile, the coal industry finds its fortunes on the decline in the developed world, losing out to natural gas and renewables.  All its hopes for survival, much less growth, rest with the developing world.

So it has glommed on to the surge of interest in energy poverty and is now selling itself as a solution.

Man, biking, dreams of coal. (Credit: Peabody Energy) Click to Enlarge.
For instance, here’s Peabody Energy, calling "advanced coal" a solution to energy poverty:

Here’s the World Coal Association doing the same. Here’s Arch Coal providing energy-poverty talking points to Jeb Bush when he attacked the pope over climate change.  Here’s Murray Energy CEO Robert Murray delivering the same talking points on Fox News. Here’s the Daily Caller pushing them, direct from right-wing think tank the Energy & Environment Legal Institute.  Here’s Fred Smith of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.  And so on.

Are they right?  Is coal the key to providing universal energy access?

A recent paper from 12 international poverty and development organizations (led by the Overseas Development Institute) argues the negative.  In fact, the opposite is true: Not only will more coal plants do nothing for energy access, they will impose unnecessary suffering on the poor.

Coal causes climate change, which is bad for the poor
There are some interesting, and not so obvious, reasons why this is true, but the most important reason is also the most self-evident:  Coal causes climate change.

Coal is the single biggest contributor to global carbon pollution.  It provides about 30 percent of global energy and produces about 44 percent of global carbon emissions.

Climate change is going to be very, very bad for the global poor, for a wide variety of reasons. It threatens to set back decades of development work.  As Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, puts it, "if we don’t confront climate change, we won’t end poverty."

This separate report from the Catholic Agency For Overseas Development (CAFOD) puts the threat into perspective.  "Of the 30 countries most vulnerable to changes in weather patterns and hazards including climate change," it says, "26 are among the world’s poorest — that is, ‘least developed’ countries."  Of the populations most vulnerable, four in ten — over 400 million people — already survive at the edge of subsistence, on $1.25 a day.  (See also this grim report from the Center for Global Development.)

Villagers carry illegally scavenged coal from an open-cast coal mine in Dhanbad, Jharkhand, India, on December 6, 2014. (Photo Credit: Daniel Berehulak /Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Pushing global average temperatures past 2 degrees above preindustrial levels threatens the welfare of hundreds of millions of people who are already close to the edge.  And all it will take to push temperatures that high (and higher) is one-third of the coal plants already planned in the world.
The best, fastest solution to bringing energy access to areas where it is now lacking is distributed energy — solar, biodigesters, batteries, microgrids, and the like.  These micro-energy solutions will not offer a level of energy access equal to what’s available on a strong centralized grid, but they are more than enough for energy-poor communities to take the first few steps up the energy-access ladder, which are huge in terms of welfare and health.

Eventually, those microgrids can be linked up and connected to larger (low-carbon) power plants, so these rural areas can have real, industrialized economies. But in the meantime, distributed energy can reach them a hell of a lot faster than larger power plants and central grids.

Read more at Energy Poverty Is a Real Problem.  Coal Is a Bogus Solution.

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