(Advanced Energy for Life.Com, March 11) – Energy is essential… like food and water. It’s the key to a better life for half the world’s population, improving education, health and longevity. Electric heat, light, refrigerated food and medicine – basic needs that most people take for granted – are still unavailable in many parts of the developing world. Incredibly one out of every two people living in the world today lacks proper energy access for these very basic needs – some 3.5 billion people.
While there has been much progress to advance electrification in the developing world in recent decades, the gulf between the world’s energy “haves” and “have nots” is still wide. In total, the average American consumes five times more energy than the average global citizen, 10 times more than the average Chinese, and nearly 20 times more than the average Indian.
These nations will account for 80 percent of global coal demand growth in the next five years to fuel their economies and lift more and more people to an improved quality of life. If China and India alone used the per-capita energy of Europe, the world would use twice as much coal, some 7 billion metric tons per year more than it does today.
Research shows that electricity does much more than provide convenience for everyday life; it opens the door to better health and longevity. The United Nations specifically links improvement in life expectancy, educational attainment and per capita income to energy use.
This fundamental need comes into sharp focus when one considers the fact that over the next 20 years, two billion additional energy users will need electricity given population forecasts. How will we meet the challenge of providing adequate electrification for six billion people who will be added to the grid?
“As the backbone of the world’s energy system, coal cannot be excluded from the energy mix,” explained Milton Catelin in an editorial in Modern Power Systems magazine. “Developing countries in particular must be able to use their own natural resources, which are affordable, reliable and secure, to drive development and improve energy access – in many cases, this means using coal .” In fact, coal is the world’s fastest-growing fuel, projected to pass oil as the world’s largest energy source in coming years.
Coal has the scale to create energy access, and coal used with advanced technologies also can deliver major environmental benefits. In the United States, for instance, advanced technologies have delivered an 89 percent reduction of criteria emissions since 1970 during a period when coal use nearly tripled and GDP doubled. Additionally, bringing electrification to parts of the world that today burn wood and waste for heating and cooking would dramatically reduce health issues related to indoor air pollution through beneficial electrification.
At the same time, today’s efficient coal-fueled electric generating plants also reduce carbon dioxide emission by up to 25 percent compared to older coal plants. Replacing a single, large coal plant with advanced 21st Century coal technology can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by the equivalent of taking a million cars off the road.
The scope of world energy demand is enormous, and job one should be lifting billions from energy poverty and raising economies to powerful economic growth.