Report: Coal headed for record decline this year

Source: By Tamara Ward, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, December 1, 2019

Coal-fired electricity is on track for a record decline this year, but use of the fossil fuel continues to grow in developing countries, according to two new reports.

The website Carbon Brief reported yesterday that coal-fired power is expected to fall by 3% this year. That drop is the equivalent of 300 terawatt-hours, or more than the combined total coal output for Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom last year.

“Nevertheless, global coal use and emissions remain far higher than the level required to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement,” wrote the study authors, from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, Sandbag, and the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

In addition to an increase in renewable energy and natural gas, coal’s decline was attributed to falling demand in developed countries and regions, including Germany, the European Union overall, South Korea and the United States.

Coal-fired electricity has been under pressure for the past decade in the United States, and this year is expected to represent one of the largest annual declines as several large coal-fired power plants have closed. As of August, U.S. coal-fired electricity was down almost 14% compared with the same period last year, according to the report.

Coal’s decline is also attributed to a reported cooling-off of coal generation in China, the world’s largest coal consumer. For the first time in 30 years, there was also a drop in demand in India, the second-largest coal user. In both countries, generation from non-coal sources has grown.

The three think tanks based their analysis on monthly electricity data, collected worldwide, for the first seven to 10 months of 2019.

Despite the overall trend this year, coal generation in developing nations has jumped 54% since the start of 2010, according to BloombergNEF’s Climatescope report, which was also released this week.

BloombergNEF evaluated 104 nations, including Brazil, Chile, India, China and South Africa, and concluded that coal accounted for 47% of all power produced in developing economies last year.

In the developing markets examined, coal is the cheapest thermal source of generation, and it is also cheaper to build and operate a coal plant than a wind or solar farm, as in the case of Southeast Asian countries and Turkey, “where 11% of the emerging market’s coal capacity was built over the past five years,” the report said.

For a second year in a row, emerging nations reportedly built more low-carbon than fossil-fueled power-generating capacity, but despite the substantial progress in clean renewable energy, power-sector carbon dioxide emissions are growing quickly in developing countries, according to the study.

Given the task of reducing carbon emissions from coal, the Climatescope report found the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is a “massive challenge.”