Investor News

Fossil fuels to remain primary energy source for decades

"The world is moving on from coal."

This is the claim by a range of environmental groups and well-meaning individuals.

They'll tell you Australia is being left behind as the rest of the world rapidly transitions away from coal to renewables.

If only it were true.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the report of coal's death is an exaggeration.

But why resort to exaggeration?

Is it because despite decades of subsidies, wind and solar remain dependent on taxpayer funds and unable to deliver affordable, dispatchable, reliable power?

If the article below is any indication, wind and solar will remain minor players in the energy mix through to 2040, while coal increases in demand, which categorically contradicts the 'moving on from coal' mantra.

The article hones in on the key headline from OPEC's latest annual World Oil Outlook report (link).

Key points:

  • The current growth in oil demand of around 1.3 million barrels a day is anticipated to slow to 300,000 barrels by 2040
  • Total primary energy demand expected to lift by 35% through to 2040
  • India and China to drive most of the increase, with India likely to overtake China
  • Renewables to increase by 426%, yet only represent 5% of the global energy mix by 2040
  • Coal demand to increase by 11%, providing 23% of primary energy needs in 2040, down from 28% in 2015
Source: OPEC World Oil Outlook 2017

There is a clear disconnect between the claims by many environmental groups and the reality. Most people get a sense of this disconnect when they find out there are more than 700 high-efficiency, low-emission (HELE) coal plants operating across East Asia right now, with a further ~1,100 under construction or in the pipeline.

Don't get us wrong. The transition to sustainable solutions is essential, especially given the world's population is projected to grow from just over 7 billion today to around 9 billion by 2040, putting tremendous pressure on resources. It needs to happen as quickly as possible. But for a solution to be environmentally sustainable, it must first be economically sustainable. We just recognise that the poorest of us in emerging nations can't afford to rush headlong into the adoption of expensive renewables to the exclusion of coal.

Energy poverty remains a critical issue:

"... energy poverty remains a critical issue. In specific regions, such as India and Africa, energy consumption per capita is still very low, underscoring the challenge related to energy poverty. Strong political commitment and resolute support from the global community is required to ensure that modern energy services are universally accessible and affordable."

The chart above illustrates that even with the world-leading growth anticipated for India, there remains significant room to grow post-2040.

Coal will continue to play a large part in India's energy mix despite its commitment to reduce emissions intensity (emissions per unit of GDP) by 33% to 35% (on 2005 levels) by 2030 (which will actually result in a tripling of total CO2 emissions).

Brown coal will continue to play a role because it's available and affordable. The Paris Climate commitment means efforts to minimise emissions intensity and maximise economic value are expected to be achieved through the application of new technologies.

We're pragmatic. We're engineers. We're inventors. We're followers of the scientific method and sticklers for technical and economic evaluation against real-world conditions. We can't ignore the fact that coal will be burned in greater quantities. This necessitates practical solutions to real problems.

In terms of power generation, our Coldry process can cut emissions intensity by 43% to 62% compared to business-as-usual when used in a HELE plant. But more than just CO2 reductions, Coldry can add value to brown coal, enabling its use in higher-value downstream processes, squeezing as much economic prosperity-generating opportunity out of each tonne.

Our Matmor/HydroMOR technology provides a low-emissions, high-value application for brown coal, enabling its use in iron and steel making, which are essential to India's nation-building agenda.

The world is rolling out wind and solar at a fast pace, no doubt. But it isn't abandoning fossil fuels. Far from it. Coal will still dominate renewables in 2040.

The reality is, that the transition to a low or zero-emission global energy network will take many decades. Well beyond 2040.

In the meantime, developing nations will continue to turn to coal and gas to deliver affordable, reliable energy to drive their economy and address energy poverty.

Coldry and Matmor/HydroMOR provide ideal solutions to mitigate emissions on the way through.


Fossil fuels will be main energy source for decades - OPEC

OPEC says growth in global oil demand will steadily lessen from an annual average of 1.3 million barrels a day between 2016 and 2020, to 300,000 barrels a day by 2035-2040. But it says fossil fuels will remain the main energy source decades from now.

Source: Fossil fuels will be main energy source for decades - OPEC