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Changing the fate of 3.5 billion

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World Coal,

Gregory Boyce, CEO of Peabody Energy, US, explains why he believes energy poverty is the greatest human crisis facing the world today.

Access to modern energy is the building block for human progress and economic development, offering a gateway to longer, healthier, more satisfying lives. As we approach the 2015 UN millennium target for halving extreme poverty around the world, there remains an enormous amount of work to be done.

Power for the masses

As many as half the world’s 7 billion people live without proper energy access for their most fundamental needs, let alone enjoying the standard of electricity access that we in developed nations have access to.

The effects of energy poverty are as shocking as they are widespread. About half the primary school children in the developing world attend school with no electricity. An estimated 1 billion people receive sub-standard care in health facilities because medicines and vaccines are not kept cold. Each day, people are forced to forage for wood, biomass or dung for fuel to cook meals or heat dwellings, a load that falls heaviest on women and children.

One woman from India captures the prevalent view in her village: “A woman’s fate is to carry these burdens […] our life is meant for this alone.”

From the hunt for fuel to the smoke from daily fires, energy poverty results in staggering consequences. By some estimates, each hour of exposure to indoor fire has the same effect of exposure to 400 cigarettes. Debilitating illness results. Lives are lost prematurely. Quality of life is sorely diminished.

Tragically, household air pollution from indoor fires is estimated to be the fourth leading cause of death in the world. It results in an estimated 100 million years of life prematurely lost each year, based on Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY), a metric established by the World Health Organization (WHO). Each DALY represents one year of healthy life lost to disease.

Energy poverty: the greatest human crisis

I submit that we cannot continue to allow these conditions to persist. The greatest human and environmental crisis we face is this crisis of energy poverty. Solving the problem does not require research. It does not require a miracle medical cure. As leaders in energy, industry, policy and government, solving the problem requires our will.

Alleviating energy poverty in the developing world must be a top priority. If the issue of global energy access can be solved, other goals for society become far more possible. Consider the success story of Thabo Molubi, a skilled craftsman, who makes his home in the South African veld. Living without electricity, Thabo carved out a modest income as a furniture maker for 16 years, though his productive day always ended at sunset.

When an electrical line reached the veld, everything changed. Thabo and his business partner embraced technology. They installed lights and used power saws and drills in their shop. Productivity quadrupled, product quality improved and they expanded the business, hiring local workers. Access to energy was transformative for Thabo’s life and his livelihood, just as it is for tens of millions of people who are leaving grinding poverty behind and entering a new global middle class.

These statistics for the developing world paint a vivid picture, although the face of energy poverty is also evident in the developed world, where access to low-cost electricity remains essential. Here, too, the choices are tough, with families wrestling with decisions between buying food or paying for heat. In the US, some 48 million Americans live in poverty. A record 115 million qualify for energy assistance and more than half of Americans have said that as little as a US$ 20 increase in utility bills would cause hardship.

An all-of-the-above strategy includes clean coal

The need for affordable energy access is undeniable and the call to action is urgent. Peabody’s Advanced Energy for Life campaign is squarely aimed at advancing solutions by building awareness and support to eliminate energy poverty, increase access to reliable, low-cost electricity and improve emissions using advanced clean coal technologies. This multi-faceted campaign will improve understanding and ultimately drive actions and policies that will extend lives, build economies and improve the environment both indoors and out. This can be acheived through an all-of-the-above energy approach. More solar and wind power is needed, as is increased nuclear and hydro, more natural gas and oil, and – above all – far greater use of coal: the world’s fastest-growing major fuel.

Peabody favours a plan that calls for half of new generation to come from high-efficiency supercritical coal plants that can achieve a key emissions rate that is two-thirds that of the existing US fleet. Even the CO2 emissions rate is 25% lower than the oldest US plants. Each large supercritical plant delivers the equivalent carbon benefit of removing 1 million cars from the road. And an unprecedented 550 GW of these advanced coal plants are in use or development around the world, with the vast majority being funded and built in emerging regions of Asia.

Next on the plan to advance energy solutions, we favour deployment of today’s coal conversion technologies, which use coal to produce liquid fuels and synthetic gas.

Finally, over the longer term, continued investment is needed to advance technology toward next-generation applications that will ultimately generate coal power with virtually no emissions. This includes carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies for various uses. Notably, this combination of advanced coal and coal conversion technologies achieve an environmental improvement that is well beyond what the carbon policy experiments of recent years have failed to deliver.

A long journey starts with a single step

As we look to the future, we must work together to create energy solutions that drive progress towards a rise in global living standards, improved education and better health, as we work to narrow the income gap.

Our journey is long and begins with a single step. Let’s take that step today. We cannot allow any human being anywhere in the world to assume their fate amounts to little more than scavenging for fuel to cook and heat. We must work with allies across all sectors, with multinationals, non-governmental organisations and governments all over the world toward solutions that will end the most challenging human and environmental crises. We must work to create a new beginning for the 3.5 billion that starts with energy access from coal.

Written by Gregory Boyce. Edited by

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