Developing economies see no escape from coal

Nov 25, 2011 by Sibongile Khumalo
File photo of a coal-powered power plant in China's Shanxi province. Coal currently generates 70 percent of power in China. The nation plans to reduce this 63 percent by 2015.

Concrete towers rise over the African bush, as the continent's largest coal-fired power station takes shape in a multi-billion-dollar testament to developing nations' love affair with coal.

South Africa, like China and India, has large domestic coal supplies that provide a cheap source of to meet an ever-growing demand.

But this has also placed the three nations among the world's leading producers of , which are a key driver of climate change.

The countries are among the world's top five producers of coal, which generates 90 percent of electricity in South Africa, 70 percent in China, and 55 percent in India.

The three nations are collectively pouring tens of billions of dollars into new coal plants, while also pushing ahead with plans for nuclear and renewable energy generation.

"These days coal has become something like a swear word. No one likes it, but the country needs electricity," said Cornelis van der Waal, a South African energy analyst at consultancy firm Frost and Sullivan.

"Everyone would love clean energy but coal is cheap and at this stage this is what the country can afford," he said.

Graphic showing world carbon dioxide emissions from coal since 1971.

South Africa plans to double its energy supply over the next 20 years, but despite ambitious proposals for renewable and nuclear power production coal will still make up 65 percent of the mix.

The 125-billion rand ($14.8 billion, 11 billion euro) Medupi station outside the northern town of Lephalale, expected to go online in two years, will be the fourth-largest plant in the world. The equally large Kusile station is already under construction.

Medupi is touted as Africa's first "supercritical" , using higher temperatures that produce more energy from less coal, while emitting less ash and . The plant will also have bag filters to trap more emissions.

China is pressing ahead with new carbon capture and that would trap carbon dioxide underground. South Africa and India say such technology remains a distant prospect for them.

One such scheme is being built in Inner Mongolia by state-owned China Shenhua Group, which plans to pump liquefied carbon dioxide underground in the desert, where it could be stored for 1,000 years.

The 125-billion-rand ($14.8 billion, 11 billion euro) Medupi station in South Africa is expected to come online in two years. The plant will be the fourth-largest coal power station in the world.

China has not revealed the cost or extent of its power expansion but plans to bring coal down to 63 percent of its energy mix by 2015.

India, on the other hand, expects coal to grow to 65 percent of its supply by 2030. It has built 55 coal-fired plants since 2007, and plans another 100 over the next decade, the coal ministry says.

Environmental activists complain that nations are not doing enough to develop renewable energy sources, and are piling particular scorn on South Africa, as the host of UN climate talks that begin on Monday in Durban.

"Renewable energy beats coal in every context, and building colossal coal-fired power stations is absurd in the face of the catastrophic effects of climate change," said Melita Steele, a Greenpeace Africa climate campaigner.

"There are no environmentally acceptable ways of burning coal. Burning coal is one of the most destructive practices on the planet, and the true cost of coal is destruction at every step," said Steele.

But emerging nations argue that technologies for wind and solar power are only able to address a small part of their energy needs.

"Renewable energy projects are good for remote areas but for urban centres coal is the only source to generate power as it caters to our demand of continuous energy needs," said Umashankar S., programme manager for Industry and Environment at India's Centre for Science and Environment.

"In a developing economy, there is no getting away from ."

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rawa1
1 / 5 (12) Nov 25, 2011
For Chinese it would be much more strategic to deal with cold fusion ASAP. It would cover the need of energy and they could store the coal for chemical industry. These needs the cold fusion cannot cover, not to say about devastation of life environment in China.
dogbert
2.6 / 5 (12) Nov 25, 2011
As usual, the article decries the use of plentiful, cheap and energy dense coal while touting the use of prohibitively expensive and woefully inadequate renewal energy sources.

The human cost of denying billions of people adequate energy is not even considered.

Coal will continue to be used in developing nations and in developed nations because it addresses energy needs as alternative sources cannot.
rawa1
1.7 / 5 (11) Nov 25, 2011
the article decries the use of plentiful, cheap and energy dense coal while touting the use of prohibitively expensive..
It's true, but the free market economy operates with current prices only. It cannot foresee the future, which is why it's oscillating in periodic crisis. In addition, the free market economy isn't able to take account into distributed, i.e. "hidden" cost of environmental problems, like the aerosols induced droughts. The hidden risk of fossil fuel economy is, it cannot be switched into another so easily, when the fossil fuel reserves will get depleted. After then the people will get refrain to the only solution, which they know: the global nuclear war, which will limit their consumption. I'm convinced, we have more farseeing ways how to go. The burning of Chinese coil bring the global ecological problems, not just the drought in China.
http://disc.sci.g...obal.jpg
rawa1
1 / 5 (11) Nov 25, 2011
We should realize, that the Chinese civilization is very opportunistic. The people who are stealing the intellectual property, eating the dogs and paying the killing of rhinos for their horns will indeed burn the coal, if they would consider it advantageous temporarily. If they can see some money, they will use it without any moral scruples.

http://www.telegr...age.html

http://www.treehu...age.html

On the other hand, the western democracy is ignoring the cold fusion for decades from the very same reason, so it's difficult to judge the Chinese just with respect to their coal burning.
ShotmanMaslo
5 / 5 (7) Nov 25, 2011
We should realize, that the Chinese civilization is very opportunistic. The people who are stealing the intellectual property, eating the dogs and paying the killing of rhinos for their horns will indeed burn the coal, if they would consider it advantageous temporarily.


Cannot blame them for it, cheap energy is essential for modern society, and Chinese do not use much if expressed per capita. Chinese are also leading the development in liquid fuel thorium reactors and renewables for the future.

On the other hand, the western democracy is ignoring the cold fusion for decades from the very same reason, so it's difficult to judge the Chinese just with respect to their coal burning.


Cold fusion is not real.
rawa1
1 / 5 (9) Nov 25, 2011
Cold fusion is not real.
Of course, the fossil fuel based countries like the Poland, Russia or China cannot be happy from cold fusion at all. These countries will lose their money invested into fossil fuel shares and technologies.

http://nextbigfut...all.html

http://pesn.com/2...icensee/
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (7) Nov 25, 2011
These countries will lose their money invested into fossil fuel shares and technologies.
How much money have you invested into cold fusion?
Let me guess. None.

So stop criticizing others' investment.

As to the article. I think the developed countries are missing a really big opportunity here by not setting up alternative power plants in developing countries (low labor costs, cheap land, optimal weather conditions).
Taking a cut of the energy for production of portable energy sources (artificial ethanol, hydroge, whatever) could be well worth the investment.
Osiris1
1 / 5 (1) Nov 25, 2011
Oh just wait til the Chinese use nuclear boosters and rockets for its space program. Why the efficiency of nuclear rocket systems allow within the envelope of contemporary mechanical and rocketry engineering's structural capabilities a much greater volume and flexibility of cargoes for a much wider diversification of mission possibilities. You would not BE REQUIRED TO USE OVER NINETY PERCENT OF THE SHIP FOR FUEL STORAGE that is useless with five minutes of takeoff! So what if the world protests! How many divisions does the 'world' have to stop them? Mankind will progress. The only choice is what ethical flavor...short lived republican budget cutters or long lived Chinese explorers who WILL find a second home for humanity....and put their stamp on it. They HAVE the coal so it is up to them to use those chemicals where it is cheapest to use them. So the world gets warmer. That only means that the presently unproductive Gobi desert can then be farmed.
Pirouette
2.2 / 5 (10) Nov 25, 2011
There's also the political reasons for China to use their coal. . . .the comfort of a heated home for their own people. The more comfort their people experience in Red China, the less worry for the government that there will be an uprising against their leaders by the discontented. That's not to say that a counter revolution can't occur anyway due to anger from the oppressed people. But it's less likely if the government provides the people with the things they need most. . .like a warm house. And cheap coal means low heating bills and electricity. Some things are deemed more important. . .like keeping your arse warm in the dead of winter. :)
StarGazer2011
3 / 5 (4) Nov 28, 2011
"Renewable energy beats coal in every context," ... except cost, scalability and reliability :)
ShotmanMaslo
not rated yet Nov 28, 2011
Osiris - nuclear rockets are unsuitable for liftoff, but they will be great for deep space propulsion. The cancellation of project Orion was one of the greatest mistakes and "what ifs" of western science and technology, along with cancellation of the Saturn program and Oak Ridge molten salt fueled reactor program in the 70s.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Nov 28, 2011
except cost, scalability and reliability :)

Reliability? Maybe.

Cost? If you add up all the ancillary cost (pollution, health costs) then alternative power sources are WAY cheaper. But since we pay those with our taxes (or simply let following generations or other countries pay the consequences) we don't see that.

Scaleability? What is more scaleable than windparks and solar thermal or PV fields?

And if you spread you production capacity over a large anough area (the US or Europe) then the reliability is there. Tests with interconnected alternative energy power plants in germany have shown that you can get 100% BASE load all year round if you use a sensible mix.

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