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Seeing the bigger picture

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Bowen Basin Mining Club director Jodie Currie discusses the future of Australian coal, and how we need to look at the bigger picture.


As we move on through 2016 and projects large and small are showing signs of progress (new contractors being appointed, and major environmental approvals finalised – to name a couple), it’s time to look at wider implications for the future of Australian mining.

Tall poppy syndrome aside, there’s a unique perspective to be found on mining when examining Australia’s position from a global viewpoint – seeing the bigger picture, if you will.

ENDING GLOBAL ENERGY POVERTY

Poverty isn’t often a word that we associate with coal – but that may be because in Australia, we are fortunate enough to have an abundance of it.

In the developing world, energy poverty is a real issue. Imagine trying to make a better life for yourself without lights, electric heat, refrigerated food and medicine – not to mention any of the advancements that come with access to a computer and the internet.

Peabody’s Charles Meintjes spoke at a Bowen Basin Mining Club event last year, and brought to light several staggering energy poverty statistics. According to Peabody’s Advanced Energy for Life campaign, over half of the world’s population lacks proper energy. In India alone, over 300 million people have no electricity at all, and more than 700 million people cannot access electricity for basic needs like cooking, lighting and heating.

The fundamental consequences to this energy poverty include lack of access to vaccinations, healthcare, clean water and education. Improving the lives of those in developing countries all begins with providing energy.

The International Energy Agency has a focus on ending this energy poverty via sustainable, clean energy. They say the world’s coal production is only increasing, and currently coal provides for approximately 41 per cent of the world’s energy needs. Now, you may immediately think of solar power or renewable energy as the best route to sustainably managing the balance between emissions and energy poverty – but coal is often the first step towards clean energy for a developing country.

Using technology such as supercritical and ultra-supercritical power plants, this energy can be produced with efficient coal usage and emissions reduction.

AUSTRALIA AS PART OF THE BIGGER PICTURE

In fact, last year’s Paris COP21 Climate Accord recognised that not only are high-efficiency, low-emission coal-fired power technologies the future, they play an important part in helping countries to actually lower their emissions as they develop. And guess who produces this coal? Yes, Australia’s high-energy, high-quality coal is key to the predicted rapid growth of India and Southeast Asia in the next two decades.

It’s not just our thermal coal either – our natural gas and our metallurgical coal (for producing steel, which in turn creates power plants, buildings and more) are equally key to ending energy poverty. So despite the downturn and those who oppose mining, Australian resources are still extremely well-placed to play a crucial part in the global market.

For example, by 2040 India will exceed Europe and approach the United States’ levels of energy consumption. Heavy investment into coal-fired electricity in India means their power generation capacity will nearly double – as will their coal import levels. India’s supercritical and ultra-supercritical power plants require a high quality coal, and India cannot produce enough of this coal. Again, guess who produces this coal?

I am aware of the criticisms around mining efforts in the Galilee Basin, however we need to remember that Queensland will produce better, cleaner coal for the Indian market, which in turn will reduce India’s emissions, and therefore overall global emissions. When you look at the bigger picture and the global market (rather than being caught up in hype and social media outrage), providing a clean coal source for one of the world’s biggest developing nations may actually do more good than harm.

RENEWABLE ENERGY NEEDS FOSSIL FUELS

Here’s another wider perspective – although coal plays a vital part in developing nations, renewable energy is also a key component in the future of power generation. Technologies, such as solar and wind power, have developed enormously in recent years, and according to the International Energy Agency, are predicted to provide 26 per cent of global electricity generation by 2020 (double the levels of 2012).

Renewable energy and mining are still inextricably linked. Without metallurgical coal, rare earths or minerals, there is no renewable energy. Are you trying to build a solar farm? You’ll need titanium, aluminum, copper and steel for that. Would you like a wind turbine to offset your emissions? Seventy per cent of the steel required to build your turbine is made possible by coal – 1MW of wind turbine capacity requires 220 tonnes of coal.

The fact is, an overwhelming proportion of your everyday tasks are powered by mining. To paraphrase from a recent article from Russell Taylor that I shared on LinkedIn:

Get up in the morning and brush your teeth – your toothbrush and toothpaste both contain minerals and byproducts of mining. Eat your breakfast – the food you’re eating has been grown with fertilisers that are byproducts of mining. Head to the gym, and I challenge you to try to work out on a machine that doesn’t have any mined metal elements holding it together. Drive to your place of employment – your car, the fuel that powers it and the roads you drive on all wouldn’t be possible without mining.

Mining, whether it be for coal, minerals, metals or oil and gas, is woven into the minutiae of daily life in Australian society, and I would suggest that this isn’t a connection that’s going to diminish any time soon.

While the international coal market is currently suffering oversupply, all indicators point to demand soon catching up. Regional Queensland had a record-breaking month for coal exports in January this year, a fact that may have been overlooked by those who prefer to shout doom and gloom from the rooftops.

So, I encourage you to be proud of our coal mining industry. We are world-class at what we do, and the quality of our coal is second to none. We have an entire industry full of small businesses, big businesses (and all the suppliers and contractors in-between) that spend their days thinking of smarter and more efficient ways to procure those minerals that our society so desperately needs in order to end energy poverty.

As with any industry, there will always be naysayers and groups trying to detract from our success. Creating a positive conversation in our industry has always been one of the hallmarks of the Bowen Basin Mining Club, and was indeed one of the driving factors behind the establishment of the Queensland Mining Contractor Awards. It’s my wish that every supplier and contractor to the mining industry has a chance to promote the innovative, exciting work they are doing – driven by the needs of their clients, the state of the nationwide industry and even by the global demand for better, cleaner, Australian coal.

It’s up to you and I to ‘clean up’ the talk around the future of our mining industry. Let’s make that our mission that in 2016.


“Are you trying to build a solar farm? You’ll need titanium, aluminum, copper and steel for that.”


PROFILE

JODIE CURRIE
DIRECTOR

Bowen Basin Mining Club

Jodie Currie is the director of the Bowen Basin Mining Club operating bi-monthly functions for the mining industry in Mackay, Moranbah and Emerald. The BBMC’s mission is to connect all levels of operation, supply and service delivery within the sector to create better outcomes through the provision of up to date information on projects and quality networking.

For more information regarding the Bowen Basin Mining Club and upcoming speakers and events, visit bbminingclub.com.au.

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