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India backs coal ahead of COP21

WHILE Big Oil is leading the drive to force coal’s extinction and Obama’s controversial Clean Power Plan gathers pace ahead of the COP21 forum in Paris in November, World Coal Association acting CEO Benjamin Sporton saw a ray of hope from India for the beleaguered power source at the 2nd annual UN Sustainable Energy for All Forum in New York last month.

Anthony Barich
India backs coal ahead of COP21

Sporton said the forum highlighted plenty of “fascinating and important work” happening across the globe to combat energy poverty which only served to reinforce the WCA’s position that “we need to look further” to find longer-term and broader solutions to provide grid-based electricity.

“There was a lot of discussion about how to deploy basic energy services to improve lighting and cooking in households and local communities,” Sporton said in a WCA blog.

“These solutions are very useful for addressing the challenge in the short to medium term, particularly for alleviating the severe health and other social consequences of lack of access to energy. But that only alleviates a difficult situation; and as we heard at the summit, there are still 500 million people forecast to be living without even the most basic energy services by 2035.

“We need to support investment into energy for business and industry that will support real economic development and help deliver stronger social infrastructure such as schools and hospitals. Business, industry and key social services can’t rely on small scale and intermittent energy if they are to grow or have any genuine impact.”

This was why Indian Minister of State for Coal, Power and New and Renewable Energy Piyush Goyal highlighted to the forum that eradicating poverty required true universal energy access.

He emphasised that coal would play a critical role for the foreseeable future in India to rapidly build a resilient electricity system to address what he called the “pain of poverty”

He also recognised that to combine energy goals with climate ambitions, the best technology available needed to be deployed, flagging that India would be looking to replace old coal-fired power plants with more advanced technology, which would mean high-efficiency, low-emissions coal.

Sporton said this technology was already available today and could make “significant reductions” in carbon dioxide and other emissions from coal while supporting economic development through energy access.

“Combined with growth in renewables that is the pathway India is going to take,” Sporton said.

“Rather than oppose support for coal financing or ignore what countries like India are saying, the SE4All forum and those attending the COP21 negotiations in Paris later this year need to recognise this point.

“If we support countries like India to build the best coal-fired technology available, that will help avoid possible future carbon dioxide emissions.”

Goyal highlighted a The International Energy Agency’s 2007 World Energy Outlook which stated that there were 412 million Indian people were without access to electricity in 2005.

“In the Reference Scenario for the future, 60 million people in rural India would still lack access to electricity in 2030,” Goyal said. “The reference case also projected that the number of people relying on wood and dung for cooking and heating fuels would decline from 668 million in 2005 to 472 million in 2030.”

The IEA also estimated that an investment cost of $US41/person, translating to a total cost of $US17 billion ($A22.14 billion), would be required to connect all Indian people to electricity.

Over US$6 billion had already been spent as of March 2014, on the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY), a scheme aimed at building accelerated rural electricity infrastructure and household electrification.

An equal amount is committed to be spent over the next three years in India.

World Bank data shows India to be the third-largest economy after adjustment for purchasing power parity; it is also the fourth-largest consumer of primary energy in the world after the US, China, and Russia, yet is not endowed with abundant energy resources.

It was assessed in early 2014 that India imports 80% of its oil, 18% of its gas, and 23% of its coal.

“Volatile energy prices, particularly of oil, have added to India’s foreign exchange burden,” Goyal said.

“The percentage of imports is expected to increase, as no significant oil discovery has been made in recent years. In addition, India’s offshore gas production has fallen substantially over the last decade, leaving a large number of gas-based power stations stranded.

“India is facing an energy dilemma. It desperately needs to maintain the rapid growth experienced over the last decade to alleviate economic and energy poverty. Being heavily dependent on expensive oil imports, which could fill up to 85-90% of oil demand in the coming decades, India’s choices are limited.”

All this, Sporton said, backed up WCA’s PACE (Platform for Accelerating Coal Efficiency) concept, launched earlier this year.

“We want to develop an international platform that can help countries build high efficiency coal plants rather than less efficient technology with higher carbon dioxide emissions,” Sporton said.

“We need to help them overcome the barriers to this technology – whether that be financial challenges, technological know-how or supporting regulatory systems that help deployment of the best technology.

“It also means we can work with those countries to make sure new plants are ready for future deployment of CCS technology.

“If we can do that then we can truly treat energy access and climate action as integrated priorities.”

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