The coal conundrum: Striking a balance between old and new energy sources Featured

8:00pm EDT September 30, 2013
Matthew Figgie, Chairman, Clark-Relaince Matthew Figgie, Chairman, Clark-Relaince
Rick Solon, president and CEO, Clark-Reliance Rick Solon, president and CEO, Clark-Reliance

Given the current economic and environmental realities, how do we find the right balance between the long-standing, heavy reliance on coal and alternative energy sources?

Energy is a fundamental driver of economic development and a contributor to people’s quality of life across the globe. The energy sector, however, faces serious challenges in the 21st century. Renewables alone do not offer us a path to a sustainable energy future. Economic development and poverty eradication depend on secure, affordable energy supplies such as coal, oil, gas, solar, hydro, fuel cells, etc.

Over the years, fossil fuels, despite environmental concerns, have contributed significantly to energy security, accessibility and affordability. Furthermore, the right technology and innovation, including clean coal and the ability to safely capture and store carbon, can effectively address many of the environmental questions. 

According to The World Bank, “Reliable energy is a key component of economic and social development ... lack of energy is among the key forces slowing down poverty reduction and growth of the rural sector.”

The world must find ways to meet the needs of a growing population, bring billions of people out of poverty, offer them a better standard of living and sustain the economic development of rich and poor countries alike. Meeting these challenges will lead to the growing demand for energy.

Consumption will increase

Even with energy conservation measures in developed countries, global energy consumption will continue to increase, driven by the economic growth and needs of developing countries. At the same time, society is demanding cleaner energy and less pollution. The desire for lower emissions has led to widespread questioning of the role of coal in particular. 

On the other hand, it is inconceivable that we could move toward a coal-free energy economy any time soon. It would be cataclysmic to our economy, level of convenience and standard of living.

All forms of energy production and use have their impacts, both positive and negative. There is no risk-free way of producing and using energy.


Consider the facts

Based on recent data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), coal provided 30.3 percent of the world’s energy supply. Outside of non-traditional fossil fuels, coal was the fastest-growing form of energy globally.

The top coal-producing nations include China, the U.S., India, Australia, Indonesia and Russia. China consumes approximately 42 percent of the world’s coal, followed by the U.S. at 13 percent and India at 9 percent.

There are an estimated 115 to 130 years of global coal output remaining in known reserves. According to the IEA, world reserves of coal are enormous and, compared with oil and natural gas, widely disbursed.  


Coal provides a lot of opportunity

In the U.S., the coal industry has a long record of creating jobs, and improving the economic well-being of a number of states and regions.

According to several estimates, there are potentially 1,199 new coal-fired power plants being proposed globally. There are 59 countries evaluating, proposing or under contract for new coal-fired power plants — China and India together account for 76 percent of the proposed new coal power in the world.

Much more research, development and implementation are needed. Coal is still important to the U.S. economy, but we need to figure out how to mitigate the emissions while continuing to utilize coal among other energy sources. ●


Matthew P. Figgie is chairman of Clark-Reliance, a global, multi-divisional manufacturing company with sales in over 80 countries, serving the power generation petroleum, refining and chemical processing industries. He is also chairman of Figgie Capital and the Figgie Foundation, a member of the University Hospitals Board of Directors, corporate co-chairman for the 2013 Five Star Sensation, and chairman of the National Kidney Walk.


Rick Solon is president and CEO of Clark-Reliance and has more than 35 years of experience in manufacturing and operating companies. He is also the chairman of the National Kidney Foundation Golf Outing.