Power of visibility

Coal is still responsible for 40% of the world’s electricity generated. And Oil was still responsible for 30% of the world’s energy consumption. Meanwhile we think that the world is making big strides towards decarbonisation. Yes it probably is now, and it seems to be so more than ever but the truth is, the world, several decades earlier, had less carbon in the atmosphere, was consuming less energy and certainly not emitting as much carbon dioxide.

The issue is that solar plants, wind turbines, offshore wind are all very visible. Even when they generate not that much power. A single coal fired power plant complex can generate way more power but is typically tucked away somewhere, by some coast where there’s some small jetty ferrying coal from some mines elsewhere.

Electric vehicles, EV chargers, though somewhat uncommon in Asia Pacific for now, are still considerably visible. So are apps showing you where chargers are once they become prevalent. It would seem everyone is trying to do their part for the world. But the ocean liners are hidden out of plain sight. Together with all those bulk carrier vessels ferrying coal from the countries of origin to where the coal power plants are, the container vessels are powered by dirty marine fuels which are typically from oil. Not the nice flowing gasoline or petroleum that runs our cars, not even slightly yucky diesel but much heavier, long carbon-chain fuels which emit more carbon dioxide.

And oh, the trucks moving long distances and carrying the containers which were lifted off those ships, they are also running on fossil fuel. The stuff which a slightly less visible, that the bulk of the real economy runs on, is still pumping so much carbon into our atmosphere. So if we restrict our thinking about energy transition just to electrification and renewable energy, we are seriously losing a lot of the big picture.