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The Coal disillusion in Asia


“Solar is competing head-to-head with coal in India and winning… and in China coal use is declining, the solar market is booming. These are not temporary anomalies but rather seismic shifts,” said Nicole Ghio, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s International Climate and Energy Campaign.

South Asia has long been a laggard of solar power development. But economic growth and a collapse in prices for panels are about to change that, with manufactures and investors alike expecting an imminent boom.

If Asia’s developing countries can grow using less coal and more clean energy, it gives hope not only to the global climate, but could herald a new era of development in the region at the heart of the global economy. But the global coal demand has almost doubled since 1980, driven by increases in Asia, where the demand is up over 400% from 1980-2010 and accounted for 73% of Asia’s consumption and almost half of coal consumption globally in 2010.

In addition, two among the 3 major consumers; China and India come up to the top list in the coal consumption. Asia defeats North America and Europe by five times in coal consumption.

According to Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), it expected 2-4% decline in coal consumption in the world. In the verge of reducing coal consumption, UK declined the highest of 16%, US with 11% and China with 5.7%. India in this relay seems not to be heading on their track. India was expected to come up with the growth up to 6%.

It is really a big question mark whether India can really make up its local action for a global problem with its 1.3 billion population; among where 22 % of them below the poverty line.

Once it stands up to electrifying Asia, the conventional wisdom has been that cheap beats green. It is persistently seeing that the coal will continue to dominate the region’s new power generation in such a way that the renewables; solar and wind can’t compete. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris agreement on limiting carbon pollution hasn’t been replicated across Asia, with top emitters China and India pledging to meet their commitments under the deal.

However, there are increasing signs that this may not be the case anymore, at least not in every Asian country, as renewable energy sources rapidly become cheaper and achieve the utility scale needed to ensure reliable generation. The Asia’s Clean energy inclination has drastically increased. Asia accounted for about 60 percent of the global progress on energy access and clean energy objectives during 2010-2012—according to the report titled “Progress Toward Sustainable Energy: Global Tracking Framework 2015”—contributing well beyond its share of global population and energy consumption.

The amount of coal-fired generation capacity that started construction around the world in 2016 was 63.06 gigawatts (GW), 62 percent lower than in 2015, according to a March paper by environmental groups Coalswarm, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace. Breaking the data down by countries in Asia showed that China has 145.5 GW under construction, but 441.7 GW on hold, while India has 48.2 GW being built and 82.5 GW on hold. Among emerging coal importers, Vietnam had 15.2 GW under construction and 2.8 GW on hold, Malaysia had 3.6 GW being built and the Philippines had 4.5 GW under construction and 0.9 GW on hold. (Source: Reuters)

However, China is trying to limit coal use in order to improve air quality in major cities and India’s government has stated that it wants coal imports to drop to zero. China is the world largest manufacturer of Solar Panels since 2008 and has drastically increased its capacity from 9 MW to 77,420 in the last 6 years.

While India’s aim of zero imports is whimsical, it’s likely that it could drop down to a figure closer to 100 million tonnes a year, which would be adequate to meet its needs for coking coal used to make steel, as well as thermal coal for coastal power plants that were designed to run on imported fuel. A news report by Reuters says, this would be a drop of more than 100 million tonnes from the record 206 million India imported in 2015, and well below the 194.6 million last year. Moreover, India is still optimistic to switch towards electric vehicle by 2030 that send the optimism to greener nation.

“We are heading in the right direction to end energy poverty,” said Anita Marangoly George, Senior Director of the World Bank’s Energy and Extractives Global Practice, “but we are still far from the finish line. We will need to work a lot harder especially to mobilize much larger investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. Leveraging public finance to mobilize private capital is imperative in achieving these goals.”

The rapid rise of affordable renewables focused on cleaner energy is likely to sparkle the many Asian countries with improved quality of life and sustainable society. Energy could be either cheap or green previously, but now they can now be cheap and green. Coal should be dead. RIP.

By Sudeep Ghimire

The writer is Global Youth Board for ‘Plant-for-the-Planet’.