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Understanding Global Trends, Voters Want the U.S. to Lead on Coal Technology



February 5, 2020 - In one of the most developed economies on earth, a place synonymous with advanced technology, coal isn’t on the way out; in fact, its role is growing. As The New York Times reported this week, Japan is building 22 new coal plants over the next five years.

For Japan, advanced coal plants mean energy security and affordability. And, rather than coming in the way of emissions reduction efforts, they are part of them. More efficient, using less coal to generate even more power than the older plants they will eventually replace, Japan’s new coal units will be the foundation for its advanced energy economy.

Japan’s embrace of coal has caught some by surprise, but it’s hardly an outlier. As the International Energy Agency has reported, coal remains the world’s leading fuel for electricity generation and global coal consumption is expected to increase for at least the next five years. Japan’s new plants will join hundreds of others in dozens of nations expected to come online this decade. Coal’s role maybe shrinking in some places, but it remains the world’s workhorse fuel to provide affordable, secure energy.

American voters seem to understand what some politicians do not. Coal is a global fuel, and the U.S. needs to take a leadership role in developing and deploying advanced coal and emissions-reduction technologies.

Asked in a recent poll whether the U.S. should take that global leadership role, 63 percent of respondents said yes; just 11 percent disagreed, with the remainder not offering an opinion.

The same poll found that Americans are still strongly behind an all-of-the-above energy approach. Seventy-two percent of respondents believe it’s important to keep a balanced electricity mix that includes coal, natural gas, renewables and nuclear power.

Of course, what Americans want – whether it’s a leadership role in developing and deploying advanced coal and carbon capture tech or maintaining a balanced electricity mix – is not what we are hearing and seeing from most presidential candidates. That’s unfortunate for any number of reasons but it’s particularly troubling because it’s also out of sync with the approach experts tell us we should take.

The International Energy Agency has made it clear that advances in carbon capture are absolutely essential. Advanced energy and emissions-reduction technologies that focus on the fuels the world uses, and will use, must be centerpieces of any effective and replicable approach to cutting emissions, not after thoughts.

In an event just this week in Washington, the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute reported that there are 19 operating facilities worldwide that can capture, compress, transport and store CO2. Several dozen more facilities are under construction or in development but this effort is just a fraction of what’s needed. According to the Institute, 2,000 carbon capture facilities must be up and running by 2040.

Voters understand the role the U.S. must play in pursuing advanced energy and emissions-reduction technologies and the place coal and carbon capture technology must hold in that effort. It’s about time policymakers – and presidential candidates – get the picture as well.