Energy industry leaders issued calls for a greater commitment to developing renewable energy sources during the 2019 World Government Summit in Dubai — and some honed in specifically on the U.S. coal industry as an obstacle to those goals.
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Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser and United Arab Emirates Energy Minister Suhail al-Mazrouei criticized coal consumption in the U.S., stressing that it was time to move on to cleaner fuel sources and a more diversified energy mix.
« What we need from the U.S. is lower coal and higher gas and higher contributions from gas and solar, » al-Mazrouei told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble during a panel discussion on the future of energy.
« That is what the world expects from leading industrial country like the United States. And I think there are good signs of that, it’s happening no matter how we look at it. »
Kaeser, CEO of German industrial conglomerate Siemens, had stronger words for the Donald Trump administration’s aversion to climate change legislation and staunch promotion of the coal industry, though refrained from criticizing the president directly.
« The U.S. has more than 100 gigawatts of coal-fired power plants, and they’ve got abundant gas right around corner, whether it’s shale or natural gas — so there is no point in complaining about climate change, whether people think it’s invented by the Chinese or not, » Kaeser said, when asked about political obstacles to cleaner energy goals.
« The facts are the facts and people come and go, so we need to just go by the facts and get something done. So in the short term, it is about gas for coal, with some renewable energies on the side, » the CEO said, adding that steps taken in this direction would lead to « a better world. »
Coal, considered the dirtiest fossil fuel, was the second-largest source of U.S. electricity generation in 2017 at about 30 percent of the energy mix, according to the Energy Information Administration. Trump has made reviving the U.S. coal industry one of the cornerstones of his presidency, and critics accuse him of dismantling the previous administration’s efforts on green energy legislation, particularly after his 2017 withdrawal from the COP21 Paris accord.
The EIA also reports that the three major fossil fuels — petroleum, natural gas and coal — accounted for about 77 percent of primary energy production in the U.S. in 2017.
But al-Mazrouei was optimistic that the tide was turning in the U.S., emphasizing that the world’s largest economy is an ally, and as the largest producer and consumer of oil today, played a major role in the future of global energy.
« We don’t look at it as a political issue … We look at whatever the U.S. had to say, and we weigh it toward the overall challenges of energy, » the minister said, pointing to California’s push ahead in renewables as a positive example. He added that in the U.S., trends were pointing toward increased use of natural gas, the cleanest of the fossil fuels.
But what strikes al-Mazrouei as the most important development in energy use is the fact that renewable energy is becoming cheaper. « It’s not just something governments have to support for it to succeed. It’s a natural choice, » he said, adding that the key remaining challenge is availability, and making power generation cheaper and more efficient.