Letters

Volume 2, Issue 2

Energy Poverty in India and What’s Needed to Address It

I found this article to be very interesting. The data in the article seems to be the most recent available and, to my knowledge, has not yet been presented in other publications. This actual data about the energy situation in India can lead us to think about the development of India in a different way, especially considering the role and challenges for the new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

During his time as Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat, Modi led a state with strong economic growth even during the global financial crisis and slowdown. Based on this and the newly planned construction of power-sector infrastructure, we are hopeful that there could be a new round of robust economic growth in India that will contribute to the greater global economy in the near future.

The data provided in this article is valuable for the purpose of research—as we look at India today, we see some significant similarities with China of years past. Generally, perhaps one can reach the conclusion that India’s energy sector will follow the same model as China—primarily that economic growth will be fueled by coal. This gives the world a chance to search for opportunities in India, not only in the realms of energy exports and infrastructure construction, but also within the field of technology transfer.

We could see that data in recent IEA reports and also reports by others are not the same as what was provided in the recent Cornerstone article. This perhaps indicates how fast changes can happen in India.

We recommend that the editors invite more articles about the energy situation in India. We are keen to learn more about the fascinating growth occurring in that nation.

Lei Qiang
Manager
Shenhua Science and Technology
Research Institute Co., Ltd

Shenhua Group’s Preemptive Risk Control System: An Effective Approach for Coal Mine Safety Management

Safety must be the perpetual theme of coal industry. As the basic energy source that has fueled China’s economic development, coal will continue to supply the majority of primary energy for the long-term future. Without safe coal production, there is no transformation and upgrading of the coal industry and even perhaps a lack of social stability and economic growth. Coal mining is characterized by inherent hazards, which requires coal companies to carry out safety precautions at all organizational levels. It is imperative to regularly examine key criteria for disaster management including coal mine hazards associated with water and methane and dust releases. To address these concerns there must be continuous progress on technologies and equipment, improvements in quality standard systems and evaluations, and proper safety incentive mechanisms.

The modernization of coal mines and the standardization of quality control in coal mining constitute the foundation of safe coal production and improve the scientific and technical standing of the coal industry. In order to further improve coal mining safety, China’s government has issued numerous laws and regulations and also conducts random safety inspections. As the largest coal-producing enterprise in China, Shenhua Group has set the benchmark for safe coal mining in China and has thus played an important role in leading safe coal production for the country. This article describes the coal mining risk pre-control management system created by Shenhua Group through year after year of practice, continuous improvement, evaluating theory, and systematic verification. It is of high significance for increasing safety in China’s coal mines. This system not only incorporates laws and regulations, but also can readily be understood and used by coal miners. As a person working within the coal mining industry, I am very appreciative that this system has been carried out and promoted in many Chinese enterprises and also hope that even more coal enterprises will communicate on their safety experiences and lessons learned to improve national coal mining safety.

Gao Yujie
Journalist
China National Coal Association

Sustainable Charcoal: A Key Component of Total Energy Access?

I write in response to Aaron Leopold’s worthy, interesting, but entirely misleading article, “Sustainable Charcoal: A Key Component of Total Energy Access?”.

He is absolutely right to point out that most people in the densely populated tropical countries of the developing world, especially those in Africa and the Indian subcontinent, lack access to affordable, clean fuel for cooking and, for that matter, electricity and transport.

However, their lack of cheap energy is the principal cause of their poverty. Anybody traveling to and working in these countries is aware of the widespread destruction of their woodlands because so much of these have already been chopped down for the manufacture of charcoal.

To become “sustainable” for charcoal production in such places, “sustainable biomass” (trees) would need to be grown in police-state conditions, surrounded by razor wire and protected by shoot-to-kill police— because the land it would have to be grown on is already so heavily over-populated and tree growth, however desirable, must compete with living space (houses, schools, roads, etc.), and crop and livestock cultivation.

Trees take a generation to grow but are turned into charcoal in hours. Charcoal from “sustainable” biomass is therefore an oxymoron in most of Africa and the Indian subcontinent. Anyone who doubts the truth of my observation should take a real-life look at Haiti or almost anywhere in Africa, India, and Bangladesh.

For the foreseeable future, given the society that exists, however imperfect, if the poor are to become any less desperately poor, they will need access to affordable energy that is appropriate to the times in which we live and the global economy we have all created. This energy must include electricity, as well as transport and cooking fuels, as Mr. Leopold and I would no doubt agree. Where and how these are sourced will vary according to the location and local resources.

Electricity from sunshine and wind is getting cheaper all the time; electricity storage, while still too unreliable and expensive for widespread deployment in most developing countries, will soon be available to allow poor people liberation from dependence on expensive, albeit reliable, kerosene and diesel fuel.

If deforestation for cooking charcoal is to be halted, low-cost “smokeless coal”, such as was widely manufactured and used in Europe following clean air legislation in the 1950s, along with more efficient and purpose-designed cooking stoves, would seem to me a much more practical and environmentally friendly way forward, to replace the destruction caused by the charcoal industry.

Hugh Sharman
Owner and Director
Incoteco (Denmark) ApS

Response: Charcoal from “sustainable” charcoal is not an oxymoron, it is a work in progress. As the global population has exploded over the past two generations, cooking traditions, still the central ritual of daily life for much of humanity, have remained just that, traditional. The example of looking at Haiti is a good one: Search for satellite images of the Haitian–Dominican border and you will find what was formerly lush forest on both sides now nearly completely devoid of life on the Haitian side but lush and healthy on the Dominican side. Whether these forests were decimated to make your kitchen table or to cook rice, this clearly illustrates that the sustainability of any natural resource is about its proper management, and not about either its absolute availability or of the availability of a technical fix. What is needed in the case of the billions of people still using dirty, dangerous, and unsustainable cooking, with wood or poor-quality charcoal, is education that there are easy, affordable options for them that offer better solutions and do not force them to significantly alter their culturally important, generations-old cooking traditions. These include the clean cookstoves and improved methods of producing charcoal noted in the article and further elaborated in the Practical Action-authored publication “Sustainable Feedstock Management for Charcoal Production.”

Aaron Leopold
Global Energy Advocate
Practical Action

I found Aaron Leopold’s recent article, “Sustainable Charcoal: A Key Component of Total Energy Access?”, to be insightful and compelling. The time is right to convert sustainable-growth wood and wood waste to charcoal as a transitional step toward even cleaner energy sources. It’s amazing how many people in the world need such an energy source for heat and cooking in order to survive. Because of charcoal’s light weight, compactness, and cleaner burning characteristics compared to wood, it makes a lot of sense. This approach will give us time to bring newer and cleaner technologies to bear on the situation without jeopardizing the livelihood of so many people in the world. The world needs a diversified portfolio of energy sources to meet our current and future needs.

Jim Corlett
Chief Executive Officer
Corlett & Associates

 

To submit a letter, please email cornerstone@wiley.com or comment below.

 

The content in Cornerstone does not necessarily reflect the views of the World Coal Association or its members.

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