Coal’s not dead yet unless we choose to bury it


As some people continue to try to shovel the last bit of dirt on the burial site of coal, sending it back to the far reaches of its once earthly birth to what they perceive to be its demise, they may want to read two recent studies.

The BP Statistical Review of World Energy and the International Energy Agency’s report on global electricity demand both point to a resurgence in the demand for electricity and — more importantly for West Virginia as well as other energy-producing states — a greater demand for coal and to a lesser extent natural gas.

“Global electricity demand will rebound strongly in 2021 and 2022. After falling by around 1% in 2020, global electricity demand is set to grow by close to 5% in 2021 and by 4% in 2022,” according to the IEA report.

“The majority of these increases will take place in the Asia Pacific region. More than half of global growth in 2022 will occur in the People’s Republic of China (hereafter, “China”), the world’s largest electricity consumer. India, the third-largest consumer, will account for 9% of global growth,” the IEA report says.

But the next few paragraphs of the report’s executive summary send a clear message of the opportunities, as well as the obstacles, we as a state, nation and world will face.

“Renewable electricity generation continues to grow strongly — but cannot keep up with increasing demand. After expanding by 7% in 2020, electricity generation from renewables is forecast to increase by 8% in 2021 and by more than 6% in 2022,” according to the IEA report.

“Despite these rapid increases, renewables are expected to be able to serve only around half of the projected growth in global demand in 2021 and 2022. Nuclear power generation will grow by around 1% in 2021 and by 2% in 2022,” the report says.

The good news in the report for West Virginia and other coal and natural gas producing states is this:

“Fossil fuel-based electricity is set to cover 45% of additional demand in 2021 and 40% in 2022. Coal-fired electricity generation, after declining by 4.6% in 2020, will increase by almost 5% in 2021 to exceed pre-pandemic levels.

“It will grow by a further 3% in 2022 and could set an all-time high. After declining by 2% in 2020, gas-fired generation is expected to increase by 1% in 2021 and by close to 2% in 2022. Gas growth lags behind coal, as it plays a smaller role in the fast-growing Asia Pacific region, and as it faces increasing competition from renewables in the United States and Europe.”

The report goes on to say that the increased use of coal will lead to more carbon emissions, and that “stronger policy actions are needed to reach climate goals.”

The data also points out, as Robert Bryce wrote for The Hill, that electricity remains the “most important form of energy” in the world, and because of that, it will be difficult to curtail the use of fossil fuels at the pace some leaders and environmentalists are forecasting.

“And a look at the countries where electricity demand is growing the fastest — and the fuels those countries are using to generate the power they need — shows why making drastic cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions will be a difficult, or perhaps impossible, task over the time lines that are commonly being used by climate activists and policymakers,” Bryce, who is a research fellow at the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, wrote in his opinion piece.

Which is exactly what energy realists have been saying for some time — the world is not ready for a rapid transition to renewables, and it will be extremely costly to force that move, both in terms of its cost in subsidies as well as its pass-through costs from energy producers to manufacturers and businesses and then to consumers.

That isn’t to say that the move to renewables should stop. But our leaders on the state and national level need to realize that a more deliberate approach to the transition to cleaner energy is the more efficient and prudent approach.

West Virginia’s top leaders in Washington — U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito and Rep. David McKinley — know this and have long been advocates for the gradual transition as well as further development of clean-coal and carbon-capture technologies.

The data is clear: Coal isn’t dead yet, and the demand is increasing across the globe. So why would we, in the U.S., want to kill it? Especially when adversaries like China are increasing usage.

President Joe Biden and his administration need to keep the data in mind as they proceed with policy decisions. Transitioning to a more green energy policy will happen in time.

But it must be based on market conditions, with economic and national security gains and potential risks in mind.

A rapid deployment of faulty policy could prove disastrous in more ways than one.


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