In the global push to phase out coal, China and In­dia will carry a strik­ingly high pro­por­tion of the to­tal bur­den in fu­ture decades. China alone ac­counts for around half the world’s coal con­sump­tion. But the coun­try is in­vest­ing heav­ily in wind, so­lar, nu­clear and hy­dro power, and brought on­line 55 gi­gawatts (GW) of new ca­pac­ity in re­new­able and nu­clear power in 2014.

In the next five years coal will al­ready make up a no­tably smaller por­tion of its elec­tric­ity mix. “We es­ti­mate that from 2014 to 2020 China’s share of coal will fall from 29 per cent to 27 per cent of to­tal pri­mary en­ergy,” the IEA said in its 2015 medium-term mar­ket re­port for coal. “If a deep restruc­tur­ing in China leads to the peak coal case, there would be an even steeper de­cline to 26 per cent.”

Much of China’s di­min­ish­ing do­mes­tic coal ca­pac­ity will be re­placed by nat­u­ral gas, which is ex­pected to rise three­fold by 2040 ac­cord­ing the U.S. En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion, rom 5.2 tril­lion cu­bic feet (Tcf) in 2012 to 17.5 Tcf in 2040. About 60 per cent of global nat­u­ral gas sup­plies to China will come from “un­con­ven­tional sources”, by to­day’s def­i­ni­tion, and LNG im­ports will make up a big por­tion of that sup­ply.

In­dia’s en­ergy needs are less than that of China’s to­day, but its fu­ture de­mand is ris­ing fast. In­dia’s pop­u­la­tion is ex­pected to reach 1.7 bil­lion by 2050, mean­ing it will have to add an es­ti­mated 15 GW of elec­tric­ity ev­ery year for the next 30 years to meet de­mand. Be­cause it doesn’t pos­sess nearly the kind of do­mes­tic nat­u­ral gas sup­plies as China, In­dia is look­ing to re­new­ables to help it shift away from coal. But nat­u­ral gas­fired power sup­plies are still ex­pected to more than dou­ble by 2030, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the Petroleum and Nat­u­ral Gas Reg­u­la­tory Board based in New Delhi.

How quickly each coun­try steers away from fos­sil fu­els is a matter mostly of po­lit­i­cal will. In­dian vot­ers and Chi­nese con­sumers, like ev­ery­where else, aren’t gen­er­ally will­ing to cover the costs of more ex­pen­sive en­ergy sup­plies, par­tic­u­larly in tough eco­nomic times. Shift­ing away from coal also de­pends on if de­vel­oped coun­tries pro­vide fi­nan­cial sup­port to China and In­dia to lessen the pain. De­vel­oped coun­tries like the U.S, after all, rose to power while emit­ting huge amounts of car­bon with­out re­stric­tion. It would be un­fair to make de­vel­op­ing na­tions to­day shoul­der the cost of cut­ting emis­sions.

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