The Coal disillusion in asia

Posted by Sadia Sheikh
August 31, 2017

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The NationNov 07, 2016 : (Pakistan) “For the past week, a spectre has been haunting Punjab. A spectre of smog and haze. Arriving just when temperatures began to dip in honor of winter, it was first dismissed as nothing more than the early onset of winter fog. But winter morning fog gives way to warm shafts of sunlight as the day progresses. Last week, hopes turned to ash when, as morning turned to afternoon, the “fog” didn’t settle. In fact, it took on an altogether alien look, engulfing large parts of Punjab in an unfamiliar brown, dusty cloud.”


Dense smoke bellowed from a coal powered station, located in Indian state of Maharashtra. The 500 MW coal plant burnt 1,430,000 tons of coal, using 2.2 billion gallons of water and 146,000 tons of limestone per year. In return, the plant generated 3.5 billion kilowatt-hours per year, supplying power to a locality of around 140,000 people in the populated Maharashtra state. The power station, also discreetly added to the atmosphere, tons of toxic waste in particulate and gaseous form every year.

With many countries having domestic coal reserves, coal is the largest means of producing electricity in South Asia. As economic growth spurs industrialization and boosts lifestyles, the demand for electricity is forecasted to grow by 83% between 2011 and 2035. To meet the growing demands, Governments are rushing to bridge the demand and supply gap by planning new power projects. To let a growing economy be dampened only by energy shortage is the last thing any of the establishments desire. The energy mix to match the growing power demand comprises of renewables and fossil fuels, notably coal.

Coal, a combustible black sedimentary rock, is the dirtiest source of energy generation in terms of environmental pollution, causing 800,000 premature deaths per year globally. More than half of these deaths occurring in Asia. In addition to releasing carbon dioxide when burnt, the carbon rich hydrocarbon emits nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and various traces of metals including mercury, all of which have been linked to causing respiratory illnesses and lung diseases. In addition, the pollutants also cause acid rain and smog.


The Hindu, Feb 04, 2016 : (India) “While the correlation between air pollution and diseases such as asthma, bronchitis and coronary heart disease is common, doctors are now pointing towards a perceived link between deteriorating air quality in our cities and increase in incidence of lung cancer.

‘There has been a steady rise in incidence of lung cancer in India in the past decade, and it continues to top the list. While smoking and exposure to tobacco remains the leading causes of lung cancer, another emerging risk factor is the dangerous mix of air pollutants breathed in daily, especially among the urban population,’ said K.V. Veerendra Kumar, surgical oncologist at the State-run Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology.”


To extract coal from an underground mine is in itself a hazardous procedure. While most accidents go unreported, mining accidents kill about 12,000 people a year. The presence of methane gas in coal beds makes the area susceptible to explosions. Additionally, mining, transportation and handling of coal, sets into the environment tiny airborne coal particles, referred to as coal dust. Coal dust, constituting of heavy metals like nickel, mercury, cadmium and arsenic can lodge in the lungs, increasing the risk of lung ailments including lung cancer over prolong exposure.

Asia has 120 coal-fired plants under construction, while more than twice the number are in the plans. Once commissioned, the deadly emissions would triple by 2030. According to the Guardian, China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam account for three-quarters of new coal-fired power plants expected to be built around the world. A news report by environmental organization, Greenpeace, warns that Indonesia will suffer the highest number of premature deaths, followed by Vietnam, China and Myanmar. With new coal based plants coming up in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, the situation can only worsen. Bangladesh plans to add 23,000 MW to its grid by 2022 from coal powered plants. This will increase the use of coal in its energy generation from 2% to a staggering 50%!

While completely discontinuing the use of coal is a faraway notion, it is significant that we realize the consequences of our decisions and chalk out a strategy to phase out of this deadly fuel. Renewable energy has come a long way to justify its standing in the energy sector. The prices of solar backed energy will decrease by 4.4 percent each year, according to a study. This entails that by 2022, cost of solar power projects will drop by more than a quarter. The threat to the environment and human lives from burning coal for generating electricity necessitates a change in energy policy in South Asia.


The Daily Star, Sep 28, 2016 : (Bangladesh) “Over 37,000 Bangladeshis die annually from diseases related to air pollution, said World Health Organization.

Stroke and ischemic heart diseases are the major factors in the deaths, nearly 21,000, while acute lower respiratory infection, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and lung cancer contribute to the rest of the deaths, the UN agency said in a statement yesterday.

The average age of death is 38 years.” 


Using High Energy, Low Emissions (HELE) technology, the dangerous emission from coal fired plants can be reduced by moving the efficiency rate of coal fired power plants from 33% to 40%. This increase in efficiency can save 20% in toxic emissions. China and Japan have been using HELE technology to deliver cleaner energy. Coal is predicted to have a significant share in the world energy mix, but not at the cost of human lives is what we must ensure. The Green Climate Fund (GCF), established to help developing countries in adaptation and mitigation strategies can assist developing countries convert their existing coal based plants to ultra-low emission standards by deploying HELE technology. With stricter policies, and tighter environmental and performance standards, can only we survive in a world where complete discontinuation of coal usage is perhaps not practical today. In the long run, we need to devise a strategy to switch completely to renewable energy.

The growing energy demand of South Asia should be met with strategies aimed at matching the economic growth with sustainable solutions. Renewable energy seems more promising today than ever before. We need to invest in renewable energy and emission reduction strategies for coal based power stations, if we are to develop a sustaining strategy for the progress of South Asia. We are disillusioned by the planned coal based power stations to be a symbol of our economic growth. It is not. We are headed towards greater perils.


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