What this article deals with? What about the issue of coal power and its implications on greenhouse emissions?
A shift to renewable energy is discussed in relation to moving away from coal-generated energy during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Coal plays an important role in many industries and is primarily used to fuel power plants that generate electricity across the United States and worldwide. This nonrenewable resource is still widely used despite the concerns about greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, which it causes, thus, increasing the climate risks around the world. However, as the COVID-19 broke out at the end of 2019, researchers noticed a decline in demand for coal-generated energy compared to other power sources. This tendency could help people shift to renewable energy in the nearest future.
As researchers found, there has been less demand for coal power in some plants that emit the largest amounts of greenhouse gases in the world. One of them, carbon dioxide, is known to increase the greenhouse effect and speed up global warming. Therefore, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by moving away from coal power is an essential step towards a more sustainable future and renewable energy use.
The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany published a report that analyzes electricity demand and emissions in several regions: the US, Europe, and India. The study established that a 20% reduction of power demand since 2019 was linked to a 50% decrease in carbon dioxide emissions in some regions. In particular, the most prominent changes were found in Germany, Spain, and Great Britain.
Traditionally, natural gas used to be the most expensive of all available power sources, and gas-fired plants used to be the first to stop operating if power demand reduced. However, the study findings revealed that coal power has a higher operating cost than gas power during the pandemic. The researchers believe that the trend of moving away from coal-powered plants could continue after the pandemic. Even though factories based on renewable energy, such as solar or wind, require a lot of costs to be built, they do not need fuel to operate.
Coal itself is an important industry in China, directly employing around 4 million people. In China, about two-thirds of its productivity comes from the coal industry. For the past 50 years, coal has been the main source of fuel and electrical power in China, powering approximately 70 percent of her homes. Coal consumption in particular, is the lead contributor to global climate change and one of the most polluting fuel sources. China has more coal-fired power plants than any other country in the world, about 40 percent of the global total.
The high number of coal-fired power plants, often with low efficiency and low environmental standards, can be seen as a strong driver of major air quality problems in vast urban conglomerations, especially in China’s developed east. The sulfur dioxide produced in coal combustion poses an immediate threat to the health of China’s citizens, contributing to about 400, 000 premature deaths a year. The largest benefits would accrue from reducing the number of deaths from strokes, ischaemic heart disease, and lung disease.
Studying the coal issue in relation to climate change effects is especially important. The amount of carbon dioxide released by coal exceeds the amount of this gas emitted by any other type of power generation. Therefore, when demand for coal-powered plants decreased even by a small percentage, it resulted in a significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Such a connection highlights that people should find alternate forms of power to help prevent climate change. Besides, the burning of coal releases toxins and pollutes the air, threatening the increased risk of heart and lung issues among the population, as well as neurological disorders.
In this regard, one should discuss the alternatives that can be used to prevent the harmful effects of coal-fired power. Another study by a London-based energy research organization Ember Climate states wind and solar power capacity increased globally despite the coronavirus pandemic. As mentioned before, one of the advantages of renewable power is relatively low operational cost, in contrast to coal. Therefore, once the power demand grows again, much energy is likely to be generated by renewable or low-emissions resources.
However, the Potsdam report’s authors believe that plans on coal power expansion plans are still possible, especially in Southeast Asia. In this region, energy demand continues to increase rapidly. At the same time, high interest rates suggest that renewable energy projects will likely need high costs. To summarize, people will hardly give up on coal power in the nearest future, but the current situation can be used as an opportunity to shift to renewable energy and address climate- and health-related issues. However, financial matters and tendencies in southeast Asian regions can slow down the progress. While climate change seems unrealistic to many people, they will prefer to act in traditional ways instead of making a change.