Report

All talk, no action: the coal industry and energy poverty

6 Nov 2014
Description

This paper argues that coal companies are not, in general, major contributors to energy poverty alleviation efforts.

Overview

The term "energy poverty" refers to people who do not have access to electricity and clean cooking facilities. Globally, 1.3 billion people do not have access to electricity in their houses and 2.6 billion people cook by burning coal, wood and other solid fuels. This has major impacts on people’s health, safety and quality of life.

The coal industry is very vocal in promoting energy poverty and pushing coal as a solution to it. The head of major coal company Peabody Energy describes the problem as: 

Energy poverty is the world’s number one human and environmental crisis.

However, what Peabody says and what it does about energy poverty are very different. Although the company contributes to many charitable causes, it does not donate money, staff time, expertise or discounted fuel to any project that directly alleviates energy poverty.

The problems of energy poverty are real and large. Promising solutions are becoming available and many organisations are working to hasten their implementation. Coal companies are not, in general, major contributors to energy poverty alleviation efforts. When they do contribute, it is ironically with support for energy sources other than coal. Claims that coal use is vital for economic growth and quality of life are not supported by economic data and should be dismissed as coal industry public relations rather than a genuine contribution to alleviating energy poverty.

Peabody’s only contribution to energy poverty is maintaining a website and social media page which promotes coal as the solution to the problem.

While Peabody talks about energy poverty, other organisations act. The United Nations, World Bank, governments and non-government organisations are addressing energy poverty through programs relating to electrification, lighting and improving access to cooking facilities, often in partnership with the private sector. The largest program is the United Nations and World Bank ‘Sustainable Energy for All’ initiative which has links with governments in 85 countries.

None of the main energy poverty initiatives promotes the use of coal.

The reason that even coal companies do not use coal-fired power to assist with energy poverty alleviation is that it is not economically rational to do so. The cost of other energy sources, including renewables, is now competitive with coal-fired power at a utility scale. More importantly, off-grid and mini-grid initiatives avoid the large up-front costs associated with coal-related infrastructure making them a much better investment for households, communities and governments affected by energy poverty.

The problems of energy poverty are real and large. Promising solutions are becoming available and many organisations are working to hasten their implementation. Coal companies are not, in general, major contributors to energy poverty alleviation efforts. When they do contribute, it is ironically with support for energy sources other than coal. Claims that coal use is vital for economic growth and quality of life are not supported by economic data and should be dismissed as coal industry public relations rather than a genuine contribution to alleviating energy poverty.

Publication Details
Published year only: 
2014
15
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