Friday, 22 June 12 GLOBAL ACTION NEEDED ON ENERGY POVERTY - WORLD COAL
Eradicating energy poverty is possibly the biggest challenge facing the world today. Like climate change it can only be addressed with a concerted global effort. With the Rio+20 conference underway, WCA looks at what needs to be done to achieve energy access for all.
The statistics are well known. 1.3 billion people lack access to electricity and another billion have only intermittent access.Without concerted international action, these numbers are not expected to change significantly in the next two decades. There is a huge disparity in energy access across the globe. Most developing economies struggle with low levels of energy access, and while most developed economies have almost full energy access, the amount of electricity they produce and consume varies significantly. Improving energy access is so important because it is fundamental to modern life. Light and power for homes, schools, hospitals, business and industry are all essential to strong and resilient economies that improve livelihoods. Economic and social development cannot occur in the modern world without access to energy. It is for this reason that the United Nations has declared 2012 as the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All, and it is why energy is amongst the top issues at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.
More ambition needed Real ambition is needed to deliver energy access across the world. The original text of "The Future We Want" draft outcome document for Rio+20 released by the UN early in 2012 included language calling for access to a "basic minimum level" of energy. Targets that refer to the basic minimum level of access reflect the target contained in the IEA's Energy for All case outlined in its World Energy Outlook 2011. This target would provide: "use of a floor fan, a mobile phone, and two compact fluorescent light bulbs for about five hours a day. In urban areas, consumption might also include an efficient refrigerator, a second mobile phone per household and another appliance, such as a small television or a computer." What is most alarming however is what is not included in the IEA definition, where it notes that "some other categories are excluded, such as electricity access to business." Ambitious energy targets will provide the energy needs to build and operate essential social infrastructure and support economic growth by allowing reliable energy supplies for business and industry. Targets for energy access must be ambitious because the problem is so fundamental to the challenges facing the modern world.
National priorities are important The first draft of "The Future We Want" document and the UN Secretary General's Sustainable Energy for All initiative have both also focused heavily on expanding the role to be played by renewable energy. Renewable energy does have an important role to play in improving energy access but it is not the right solution everywhere. As nations develop, they seek secure, reliable and affordable sources of energy to strengthen and build their economies - coal is a logical choice in many of these countries because it is widely available, safe, reliable and relatively low cost. Accessing reliable, on-grid, base load electricity is essential for businesses and industries that cannot have intermittent supply. Strong grid structures with base load coal fired power stations are essential to even out peaks and troughs in the generation of renewable electricity and they can very effectively distribute centralised base load electricity. Many countries have very significant coal reserves and should be able to utilise those to build reliable base load electricity systems. International support for improving energy access should recognise the economic, technical and natural resources available in economies with a shortage of electricity supply. Across the world coal will play a significant role in improving energy access. The IEA's WEO 2011 projects that coal will provide more than half of the on-grid electricity needed to meet their energy for all case. It will be particularly important in places like India, Pakistan and southern Africa and will continue to strengthen China's energy supplies.
Energy access and climate change Despite the need for countries to be able to utilise their own resources, it seems at the international level that there is a far more significant focus on renewable energy technologies. This focus is brought about by concerns over climate change. The concern is that significantly improved energy access will lead to large increases in emissions of greenhouse gases and therefore increase the risk of catastrophic climate change. Many actors in the international community therefore believe that fossil fuels cannot play a role in improving access to energy if we also want to meet the climate challenge. It is not necessary however for action to be restricted to that paradigm.
A surprising revelation in the IEA World Energy Outlook 2011 was that achieving the IEA's (albeit minimal) energy access target would only increase global CO2 emissions by 0.7%. In part that is likely to be because of the significant role of off-grid renewables included in the scenario, but it also comes in a scenario where almost a quarter of all electricity needed is expected to be provided by coal. More ambitious energy access targets may lead to higher emissions, but this will also come in the context of significantly improved economic and social outcomes for those who get access to electricity. Even more important is that significantly increased emissions can be avoided. Deployment of advanced coal technologies will play a major role in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. One key way of reducing the emissions from burning coal is to improve efficiency levels at power stations. Highly efficient modern supercritical and ultra supercritical coal plants emit almost 40% less CO2 than subcritical plants. Efficiency improvements in power generation are amongst the most cost-effective and shortest lead time actionsfor reducing emissions from coal-fired electricity. This is particularly the case in developing countries and economies in transition where existing plant efficiencies are generally lower and coal use in electricity generation is increasing. Beyond improvements in efficiency, carbon capture and storage technology will be a key technology to reduce CO2 emissions, not only from coal, but also natural gas and industrial sources.
Figures in the IEA's World Energy Outlook 2011 report estimate the potential for CCS to contribute 22% of global CO2 mitigation through to 2035. Over time CCS will become a key technology for improving energy access consistent with global climate objectives.
What action is needed? Concerted international action is needed to address the global challenge of energy poverty. Without providing energy to those who currently lack it, it will be impossible to eradicate global poverty. To meet this challenge, policy frameworks must be put in place, both at national and international levels, to support effective energy institutions and business models to support the deployment of a comprehensive energy infrastructure where it is needed most. With these frameworks in place, finance from all sources, public and private, domestic and international is needed to provide the finance to build energy systems. Before this can be achieved however, it must be recognised that all sources of energyare necessary to meet the vast potential demand for electricity. It is important to understand that different sources of energy will suit different countries and different environments. To ensure that energy reaches those who need it most, there cannot be a political preference for one technology over another. The decision must be based on what is most effective in meeting the energy need. Source: World Coal
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