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Energy poverty: coal is part of the solution, says Gregory Boyce.

World Coal,

Peabody Energy Chairman and CEO, Gregory H. Boyce, has offered a five-point policy plan to address the immediate needs of the energy impoverished and longer-term energy needs from global growth, citing valuable lessons learned from three major Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) nations.  

During a wide-ranging discussion with heads of state and CEOs at the 2014 APEC CEO Summit in Beijing, Boyce said China, Australia and the US each offer an important policy lesson to alleviate energy poverty, create low-cost energy access and improve emissions.

Three main points made by Boyce are that:   

  • China has used coal to lift 650 million from poverty since 1990, during which time gross domestic product (GDP) soared 850% and use of coal-fuelled electricity increased eight-fold, progress the International Energy Agency (IEA) called "an economic miracle."
  • Australia elected a new government last year for the express purpose of repealing the carbon tax, which opponents of the tax said created an economic burden in excess of AU$ 100 million/week. Some have suggested repeal of the tax is expected to save the typical family AU$ 550/year in electricity costs.
  • The US has achieved remarkable emission improvements through steady stair-step investments in advanced coal technologies and today has some of the best air quality in the world. Coal used for US electricity increased 170% since 1970, as GDP doubled and the key emissions rate per megawatt hour was reduced 90%.

"Advancing social and economic progress to alleviate energy inequality is the task for all global leaders," Boyce said. "Bringing an end to energy poverty – the world's number one human and environmental crisis – should be our first order priority toward inclusive growth and regional connectivity. Once we solve this crisis, our other societal needs become far more achievable."

Each day more than half the world's 7 billion people awaken without proper electricity in their lives. Billions rely on primitive indoor stoves for cooking and heating, yet the smoke from these fires is the harbinger of early disease and loss of life. Indoor air pollution from energy poverty is the fourth-leading cause of death globally. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests as many as 4.3 million premature deaths a year are likely attributable to “pollution exposures among the estimated 2.9 billion people living in homes using wood, coal or dung as their primary cooking fuel”. The WHO also provides a figure of 3.7 million annual deaths worldwide from outdoor air pollution.

Simple daily necessities like running water, preserving food, lighting homes and creating warmth are what matter most to families without adequate power, Boyce said. Satisfying these needs will require enormous amounts of energy: Bringing non-OECD nations to parity with the same per-capita energy use as the EU require more than double the electricity than the world uses today. 

Boyce also said that addressing the immediate needs of the energy impoverished must be paired with satisfying longer-term needs.  Electricity demand growth is expected to climb nearly 70% by 2030, based on the IEA’s current policy scenario. Hundreds of millions of people are expected to migrate to cities requiring more power and world population is forecast to grow beyond 8.3 billion people.

The role of coal

All fuels are needed to address these challenges, Boyce said, noting 21st century coal would be a major part of the solution given its large scale, low cost and low emissions profile. 

The concept of 21st century coal was introduced by the governments of China and the US in the context of an international partnership to advance clean energy solutions from coal in 2009. It includes high-efficiency supercritical generation as well as today's advanced coal technologies that drive ultra-low emissions. 

Coal is the world's fastest-growing major fuel, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. Coal has created energy access for more than 830 million people since 1990, largely in emerging economies, based on one study. This equates to providing access to 13 times more people than wind and solar.    

The right approach, the right fuels and the right polices are essential to combat energy inequality and improve the environment, Boyce said, appealing to APEC members to take a leadership role in supporting five priority policies:     

  1. Elevate the issue of energy inequality as a major priority for policy and action by APEC members and G20 nations.
  2. Recognise the tremendous impact of energy policy on all citizens and the importance of keeping energy available and costs low. Any new energy policy recommendations should show how energy access increases and energy affordability is strengthened.
  3. Embrace a true "all of the above" energy strategy that recognises all quantifiable benefits and limitations for each fuel alternative. For coal, this includes supercritical technologies with advanced emissions controls for all new coal plants.
  4. Support continued investment in advanced coal technologies to minimise emissions and drive down costs.
  5. Promote development bank funding to expand broad electricity access in emerging markets.

"Access to clean, affordable electricity is the catalyst to lift billions to better, longer lives," Boyce said. "We must all work to advance solutions to improve the human condition." 

The APEC CEO Summit was initiated in 1996 and is expected to draw 21 APEC economies this year along with 16 other nations and regions, including heads of state, top CEOs and policy makers.

Adapted from press release by Sam Dodson

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