Coal is currently the biggest power generator globally and it is also the biggest source of carbon emissions. With the current climate emergency, a number of countries in the world are experiencing a transition away from coal-based power. In this transition process, the countries have set targets to improve energy security, mitigate climate change, and create a sustainable future. Since coal is unevenly distributed across the world, countries are trying to rapidly scale up the development and deployment of renewable energy technologies which move away from coal-based power altogether.
In March 2019, a high-level congregation of key stakeholders, policymakers, industry experts, scientific leaders, and members of civil society associations took part in The Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue (BETD) in Germany. The aim was to share their experiences on a safe, affordable, and environmentally responsible global energy transition away from coal. A panel discussed various coal-exit strategies by countries and the socio-economic implications of this transition. A few key takeaways from the conference are summarized here:
At the moment, Germany is the biggest emitter in the region and also has the largest share of coal-based power generation, with 49 GW of installed capacity. However, the country plans to scale up renewable energy, currently at 40% of the total power generation, and they plan to completely phase out coal by 2035-2038. Professor Dr Claudia Kemfert from the Department of Energy, Transport and Environment, German Institute of Economic Research, says that the phasing out of coal can be carried out in four phases simultaneously.
The first phase will involve the retirement of all coal-based power plants in the country. This will lead to the creation of new jobs in alternative energy and more investments flowing into infrastructure and research, forming the second phase. The third phase will involve the modernization of power and energy systems with the integration of renewable energy, and the fourth and final phase will involve achieving competitiveness and compensation on grid costs to ensure energy security.
The driving force for the country’s decreased dependence on coal-based power is the reduction in renewable energy technology costs in the country. The Minister of Energy, Chile, Jimenez Schuster has stressed on the fact that the country has high solar and wind potential that is just waiting to be tapped into. It also houses the first geothermal power plant in Latin America. Chile declared that all new investments in the energy sector are going to be in renewables, which led to the construction of around 93% of its power plants in this segment.
Not only has the country been able to efficiently decarbonize its electricity and transportation matrix, but the Ministry has also prohibited power generation companies from setting up new coal-fired capacity unless they demonstrated effective carbon capture techniques. Through policies like this and voluntary agreements between the power generation companies and the Ministry of Energy, the country will soon be able to phase of out coal completely.
The UK has been at the forefront of the energy transition process. The Secretary of State, Lord Oliver Henley, said that the country went from generating around 40% of its electricity from coal in 2012 to only 5% in 2018. This rapid transition, driven by social and environmental aspects, has also maintained the security of energy supply throughout the country. Constant government action through clear targets has made coal in the UK practically inept. The government now plans to end all coal-based power generation by 2025, providing certainty to renewable energy and alternative technology.
The carbon price support mechanism, a tax levied on fossil fuels used for the generation of electricity, has helped generate funds for the deployment of alternative sources of power and worked to establish energy security. The country has also committed £2.5 billion up to 2021 towards the innovation of low-carbon technology along with concentrated efforts to scale up renewable technology. This has led to a huge price drop in renewables, especially offshore wind technology.
As a result of these reforms, carbon emissions in the UK have dropped by 40% since 1990, while still experiencing steady economic growth.
In India, while the Ministry of Power has planned for zero new coal capacity starting in 2025, we still have a long way to go. We will need clear policies and rules set in place by the government to make the country more eco-friendly in our shift from coal to low-carbon technology. We must study the examples of these countries and devise a strategy that comprises both of social reforms and economic stability, while still providing sustainable alternatives to ensure energy growth.
Summarized from the Powerline Magazine Article on Cleaning Up.