Strategic Futurists; Value Systems Specialists

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Why Coal's biggest problem right now, is not renewables

Friday 25 July 2014

There's no doubt that coal has a legitimacy problem with large swathes of the public around the world. Once a darling of energy and still in relative abundant supplies, Coal provides significant levels of energy per gram consumed. Yet the end outcome is now known to be incredibly harmful to localised communities needing to breathe air filled with particulates, as well as the climate heating properties of its use. With renewable energy sources being positioned for rapid uptake, it'd be easy to think that Coal's major problem is renewable energy alternatives. But if you're in the coal Industry and thinking you need to hold the tide against renewables, you're fighting the wrong tide

So let me go out on a limb here. The Coal sector's biggest problem is not holding the tide against renewables - that link has already been established despite numerous Government's policy changes and uncertainty. Instead, what is galvanising the 'anti-coal' proponents is an energy source much closer to the coal sector - fracking.

Coal seam gas extraction is quite frankly a pariah in energy. Around the world, the threats to land use, poisoning of water supplies, depletion of fresh water for townships and more, has heightened awareness of the need for alternatives to such a point, that movements once considered miles apart, have discovered a significant alliance and likeness. The 'green' and 'farm' goroups have been forged together to hold off fracking, to retain arable land, to allow farmers to manage their own land without the destructive and toxic chemicals utilised by the fracking industry potentially poisoning their farms forever.

This anti-fracking movement has provided the energy to significantly question the viability of developing new coal resources. Fracking is the weird relative at the family BBQ. No one really wants it but it turns up uninvited and with long term impacts unknown (but not likely to be beneficial).

That Coal seam gas exploration has not provided ANY benefits to consumers in New South Wales is well know with a state-wide price rise INCREASE of almost 20% being attributable directly to export of gas overseas. These price jumps have encouraged (even forced) consumers to seek out alternatives, and yet again, renewables, particularly solar, continue to benefit. And consumers now have a price point that even without feed in tariff payments, the cost of a solar system is at a level where many still proceed regardless. The CSG sector is actively working against any chance that coal might have led the drive to a managed draw down of it's assets.

If existing coal players want to be able to find ways to maintain a business by having the lead time to develop cleaner options for coal, they need to focus on putting the racking sector back in pandora's box. Until they do (and the longer they take to do so) the viability risks grow and community acceptance levels decline. Renewable energy is not Coal's biggest problem - it's CSG fracking.

 


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