As the east coast of Australia progresses through a warm summer with temperatures well over 30 degrees a common occurrence and South Australia continuing to struggle with certainty of power supply, I am reminded of a beanie I picked up in the depths of the European winter at ski resort that was experiencing -20 degree temperatures.
I found the branding to be quite clever. I’m not entirely sure that this fashion label fully appreciated what they had written in terms of the mineral, coal. A quick check of their website suggests it is unlikely, the comments, none the less, are quite accurate.
As we sit and watch the heat linger this Australian summer, many will point to global warming as the cause and the need to move aggressively to renewables. I will not be entering into a discussion on my position towards mans’ contribution to global warming . The purpose of the discussion is that the arguments being pushed by green groups fail to appreciate the consequences of their actions.
I always sit bemused when you hear about protests at coal mines. See sit-ins, all the media hype, police clashes, general lawlessness. Fine, but do we all not see the irony in these same people sitting around a camp fire later that night singing kumbaya. If you don’t see where I am heading perhaps take a look at the chart below:
Wood as an energy source is a terrific emitter of carbon dioxide. It emits more than 15% of the carbon than black coal does. Interestingly, gas, which is another no no for the “green elite” has almost half the emissions of wood based energy sources.
Now I know, you’ll say that this is only a small part of the world that sit around camp fires and it helps you “get in touch with nature” so to speak. Well, this is where many on the left fail to appreciate that for large parts of the world, people are not attached to grid power and rely on wood powered fires to heat and to cook.
China and India are currently looking to transition their economies and attempt to pull their society of poverty. The most economical way that this can be achieved at present is using coal generation as base load power. This should be supported because the move from wood to coal reduces carbon emissions, which is the quest isn’t it?
What bugs me is that it isn’t at all supported. No, we in the west sit and say, let them live in poverty and then are surprised when emissions keep rising. Well, when population growth is positive in developing countries how can we be shocked?
It’s true that we wealthier countries should be pushing for cleaner energy. I think the argument is so counter productive to think that this is only achieved by moving towards renewables.
Technological improvements in coal and gas fired power stations should never be underestimated as society moves to reduce the negative environmental impacts of a growing economy. China, Japan and even India, for example, have invested heavily in High Efficiency, Low Emission (HELE) power plants. The key to the success of these power plants is the quality of coal used. High quality thermal coal is the answer to a significant drop in carbon emissions globally.
The above chart highlights the significant outcomes on carbon emissions from a move to newer technology power stations. In fact, according to the IEA, if the world converted to HELE power stations carbon emissions would reduce by more than 2 billion tonnes! Just to put this into perspective, it is the same as eliminating over four hundred million cars from our roads (approximately 30% of vehicles globally) every year.
I raise this at an interesting time because we are also seeing the rise in electric vehicles from the USA to China. Significant investment is being made in the auto industry to shift from the traditional combustion engine to electric vehicles. The big problem that everyone forgets about with this “green” initiative is the impact upon base load power demand. I mean when do people think they are going to charge their car? It’s pretty simple, you charge it at night when the wind isn’t blowing typically and the sun provides no solar.
The above charts highlight the impact on the grid of electric vehicles in summer (on the right) and winter (on the left). The green shaded area shows the increasing demand for base load as a result of the increasing draw. Essentially, the world will need an additional 15% base load generation. So we are at the point where we need to make a decision on what type of base load power it will look like.
To my friends who support renewables, take a look at the disaster that is South Australia. The great irony with South Australia is the significant manufacturing that takes place in the state which requires certainty of energy supply to survive. The latest event almost makes industry impossible. In addition, given the significant reliance on renewables in South Australia, they need to be connected to Victoria and NSW in case renewables are not able to service the domestic market.
Why is this ironic? Well, Victoria has some of the worst emitting power stations globally. Despite Australia having an abundance of high quality thermal coals, typically out of the Hunter and Liverpool Plains, we have some of the worst emitting power stations. Did anyone ever wonder why Australia was such a large emitter of carbon despite our relative small size and shrinking manufacturing industry?
We export the best coals to Japan, Korea and India and leave ourselves with coal that has the same energy content as product out of Indonesia. Maybe slightly more efficient than those camp fires I mentioned earlier.
For all of South Australia’s hot air on renewables, they, like all Australian states, rely on dirty old brown coal.
So I ask you, why can’t we make a difference by looking at technology. Efficient energy storage is still many years away (Tesla Power Wall can service your house for oh about 40 minutes in the evening). In the meantime we will see significant population growth globally coupled with an increasing reliance on base load energy from our shift to electric vehicles. Let’s stop protesting coal mines. The world doesn’t fall in when they get built.
Just take a look at Maules Creek in the Liverpool Plains. Meant to be the great environmental tragedy. Hmm guess I’ll have to wait for that to play out. It’s all gone a bit quiet on that front. On the flip-side, the quality of coal produced out of the Liverpool Plains is second to none and is helping reduce global carbon emissions.
Meanwhile, the well intentioned sit around the camp fires trying to stop these important projects from happening because they live in an absolute fantasy land and will only believe in their way or no way at all without any consideration of the reality that they face.
Yes, Coal, it is a necessity for fine living. Let’s be realistic and work towards ways to reduce emissions that are both economic and environmentally friendly. Major success can be made without revolutionary policies aimed at sending us back to the stone age.