The Obama administration may be pulling the U.S. away from coal power to fight global warming, but Indian leaders are ramping up the country’s coal production by opening a new mine every month.
India’s leaders have a goal of doubling coal production by 2020, overtaking the U.S. as the world’s second-largest coal producer. While the Obama administration wants the world to rally behind a global warming treaty that requires deep cuts to fossil fuel use, India has decided that raising standards of living is a much more important goal.
“India, with the fifth highest coal reserves in the world, is opening a coal mine a month and expects to surpass the United States in coal production by 2020,” according to a recent analysis by the free market Institute for Energy Research. The country has doubled in the last 15 years, but it hasn’t been enough to bring power to nearly 1 billion citizens.
India sees coal mines as not only a valuable source of electricity, but also a way to grow poor rural provinces. Last month, India opened the Magadh mine, which could become Asia’s largest coal mine in the next five years.
“Environment is non-negotiable but we can’t live without coal,” said Anil Swarup, India’s top coal official. “You can’t wish away coal.There is a temporary drop in demand, but no question of reducing coal output. We are well short of coal required in the country.”
Coal is India’s main source of power, but the coal mined in India is of low quality and twice as much needs to be used to get the same amount of energy produced by, say, Australian or American coal.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that “India suffers from severe shortages of electricity, particularly during peak hours of demand, and often experiences shut-downs lasting from several hours to days in certain areas.”
Another major problem facing India is its government-run electricity sector, which has trouble even keeping the lights on. India’s government also controls the coal industry and heavily regulates distribution. Inefficient government management of the country’s energy supply is part of the reason India has had to rely heavily on imports of coal, gas and oil to meet its energy needs.
Despite its shortcomings, India’s power sector is getting better, albeit slowly. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made electrifying the country a major priority in an effort to lift more than 300 million people out of energy poverty. To do this, he’s promised to ramp up coal production and use more green energy — though the lion’s share of the electricity overhaul will come from more coal-use.
The U.S., on the other hand, is imposing regulations aimed at decreasing coal-use while ramping up its reliance on wind, solar and natural gas. A recent study by the UK-based think tank E3G environmental found the U.S. “is making the most positive progress of all the G7 nations” in terms of moving away from coal.
“Only Japan persists in wanting to build new coal plants, leaving itself isolated among its G7 peers,” E3G found.
U.S. coal production peaked in 2006 and coal-use (mostly for electricity and steel-making) peaked in 2007. Since then, booming shale gas production and Environmental Protection Agency regulations have cut into coal’s market share. Coal-use has fallen 19 percent since from its 2007 peak.
“As India is opening up new coal mines, coal mines in the United States have closed and thousands of coal miners have become unemployed in the coal producing states of West Virginia, Kentucky, Colorado, Indiana and Utah,” according to IER.
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