Sustainability on the agenda in India

Dr. Minchener was recently at the 10th World Petrocoal Congress and World Future Fuel Summit, February 2020, Delhi India

I have participated in several Petrocoal workshops in recent years and have found them a useful forum for discussions on how fossil fuels, especially coal, can meet appropriate UN Sustainable Development Goals. This meeting was run in parallel with a workshop considering sustainable future fuels for global climate change, with an emphasis on biofuels. Consequently, there were some interesting crossovers identified within the discussions.








The Petrocoal three-day event was overseen by Shri Dharmendra Pradham, the Honourable Union Cabinet Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas and Steel for the Government of India. There was considerable discussion regarding the differing energy and climate objectives for developing countries compared to their OECD counterparts. It was stressed that international policy debates on climate change are driven by OECD countries and their organisations, and are centred on limiting emissions of greenhouse gases by reducing fossil fuel consumption and pushing the use of intermittent renewables. However, the energy challenge for the 2030 Sustainability Agenda is driven by national priorities such as development, quality of life, employment, energy security and trade balances, which are crucial to developing countries. In the case of India, energy demand is expected to grow steadily for at least the next twenty years. Coal comprises a significant part of their energy mix, for power generation and large industrial processes, and while its use will decline as an overall proportion of the total energy use, this will represent a modest but important increase in absolute terms. Most of the additional energy demand will be supplied through the further introduction of intermittent renewables.

India recognises the need to achieve a balanced energy strategy that will provide a realistic way to contribute to meeting the 1.5⁰C target while addressing the key issues that developing countries need to focus on. For India, such issues include meeting their rising energy needs, attaining the UN Sustainable Development Goals, dealing with the challenges arising from climate change, and ensuring the economic well-being of their growing economy.

From a coal utilisation perspective, High Efficiency Low Emissions (HELE) coal power systems based on ultrasupercritical (USC)/advanced USC are very much seen as a key way forward. These must be fitted with state-of-the-art conventional emission controls as such technologies can achieve extremely low NOx, SOx and particulate levels (as already proven in China). In due course, there must be serious consideration of the introduction of CCS/CCUS technologies to ensure very low carbon emissions. For the industrial sectors, coal to gas, coal to liquids and coal to chemicals have enormous potential and are also capable of providing a low-cost approach for limiting carbon emissions, again with the addition of CCS/CCUS.

As ever, the introduction of new technologies within developing countries can be problematic due to the perceived high costs. However, while the capital costs can be higher, in terms of cost per unit output, this is generally not the case. There remain many financing routes that should continue to be available to India and these will need to be rigorously sought for early application of these key robust and flexible technologies that provide a valuable balancing counterpoint to intermittent energy systems.

Alongside these needs are key non-energy issues such as gender empowerment and equality, with the recognition that employment opportunities must ensure that an equitable energy transition can be achieved.

All in all, it was an interesting and thought-provoking event.