The Washington Times
From the Appalachian country hollows of West Virginia, to Chinaâ€™s frigid northeast province of Heilongjiang, Indonesiaâ€™s South Sumatra and Vietnamâ€™s Quang Ninh Province, seismic shifts are underway in the coal industry. These changes have nothing to do with the fight to cut carbon emissions and the low cost of natural gas that heralds an imminent end to the era of coal. Nor are they related to the 19 nation-strong alliance formed at the recent U.N. Climate Summit in Bonn, Germany, that promises to phase out use of the fossil fuel by 2030. In fact, for some of the worldâ€™s biggest users of coal, in both the developed and developing world, phasing out coal is neither expected nor desired.
The real story is that the continuous economic growth of developing economies will fuel demand for cheap energy. And the U.S. is well positioned to assist and profit from the changing economic landscape.
Indeed, coal demand is only expected to ramp up further as low-income countries achieve middle-income status and more people move to cities in pursuit of better economic opportunities. In Asia, the urban population is forecast to reach 64 percent by 2040. Across the continent, whether in the congested urban areas or the countryside, coal is accessible and most countries have either sufficient domestic supply or can easily import it on the oceanâ€™s vast seaborne lanes.
It is this trend that has prompted Washington to zero in on overseas markets for exports of American coal and on ways to burn it more cleanly and efficiently. Speaking at Bonn, U.S. government officials said they would form a â€śclean coal allianceâ€ť with nations spanning six continents and urge the World Bank to change its ban on financing for coal projects.
Washingtonâ€™s policy focus is not a lone voice in the wilderness, but is echoed by the International Energy Agencyâ€™s latest report, which confirmed that a clean coal approach is more viable than the one promoted by the â€śPowering Past Coal Alliance.â€ť While the energy agencyâ€™s top-line figures show that coalâ€™s â€śboom yearsâ€ť are likely over, as Chinaâ€™s demand for the stuff wanes and the U.S. and other developed economies are shuttering a growing number of coal plants, the fine print tells a different story. Coal still provides roughly 40 percent of the worldâ€™s electricity and many emerging countries are simply not willing to phase it out just yet.
According to the agencyâ€™s World Energy Outlook 2017, Southeast Asia is expected to continue driving global demand for coal for power generation through 2040, despite the fact that some continue to retire coal-fired plants or cancel projects for new coal facilities. The fast-growing and energy-hungry economies of India and Southeast Asia are expected to account for the majority of coal use in the coming years.
Over the past 15 years, the energy demand of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has grown by 60 percent, and the energy agency anticipates it to grow by almost two-thirds by 2040.