Role of coal

abcoalAccording to International Energy Agency, around 1.3 billion people all around the world has to live without access to electricity and as unbelievable as it might sound, still it is 18% of the global population. Since access to electric energy is one of the key factors of countries development, fulfilling the needs for electricity in developing regions that do not have it should be one the top priorities for the global community in XXI century. Satisfying the demand for electricity, driven both by the economic growth and necessity of increasing life standard of individuals will be followed by increase in production of electric energy; although energy efficiency and usage rationalization programs in developed countries might be a right approach, they without a doubt would not compensate the growing demand. The only answer is increasing usage of various energy sources and surely the world would not omit coal – the most common natural resource of all the fuels, with the easiest availability.

At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002, experts do not forgot about coal’s importance in supporting the growth of developing countries, and while highlighting that the future of energy belongs to renewables, fossil fuels are the ones providing security of supply. Despite of many directions of development of renewable energy, they all still have practical and economical limitations. That is why, according to various forecasts, in the global scale the industrial energy production for at least 2-3 decades will be based on coal and other fossils.

There are three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental. Coal as a fuel seems to play a significant part in all three of them. In the economic scope, coal is the fuel used in production of around 41% of global electric energy (twice as much as from the second one – natural gas) and 70% of steel production. According to IEA forecasts, the use of coal in power sector will increase to 60% until 2030. Also, for some countries coal is a major export commodity and therefore, a significant source of their income (in total, the annual value of coal export reach 70 billion USD). The benefits of coal production, trade and consumption are reaped both by developed and developing countries.

In the social dimension, coal industry is delivering jobs to around 7 million people around the world. Coal is mined in 70 countries and its production stays a key business activity for many communities. Also, as mentioned above, coal is the answer for electricity demand for almost 1.3 billion people, like it was in the last two decades, when electric energy produced from coal was delivered to around 1 billion receivers.

When it comes to environmental dimension: CO2 emissions, the main argument against coal in many discussions, significantly dropped in last years, even with increased coal combustion. Development of new technologies helps combining economic and social advantages of coal use with the need to protect the environment; if all the power plants in the world would reach the same level of effectiveness as the new ones in Germany, the carbon dioxide emissions would be decreased even bellow the level required by the Kyoto Protocol. Today, the only acceptable way to join economic and environmental issues is a reasonable compromise between using rather expensive and not safe (in terms of technological processes) renewables and fossils, with coal as the key resource.