Coal Not Going Away Anytime Soon despite Renewables Push

Manila Bulletin, November 20, 2015 | Go to article overview

Coal Not Going Away Anytime Soon despite Renewables Push


BEIJING - Coal: Can't live with it and can't live without it - at least not yet.

It is the biggest source of heat-trapping greenhouse gases that negotiators around the world hope to limit in an agreement to be thrashed out in Paris next month.

Demand for coal is leveling off, but it will remain a key energy source for decades, no matter how many billions of dollars of investment go into cleaner energy like wind and solar. Too much of the world depends on it now for heating and power generation for us to suddenly live without it.

There are vast parts of the developing world that will continue to see growth in demand for electricity as incomes increase, driving sales of televisions, refrigerators and the construction of highways and malls, said Xizhou Zhou, the China chief for energy consultants IHS Energy.

"The cheapest way to provide electricity in many of these places is still coal-based," Zhou said.

This underlines the challenge facing negotiators who will convene in Paris Nov. 30 to agree on how to limit emissions of fossil fuels. Scientists say coal, oil and gas emissions, including carbon dioxide and methane, are key drivers of rising temperatures that could lead to intense droughts or flooding of island nations.

Abundant and cheap, coal emits not only soot but double the greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy of natural gas.

In recent years, slowing economic growth, gains in energy efficiency and advances in renewable-energy production have dampened demand for coal in key markets. Stricter air emissions regulations in Europe, the production of shale gas in the US and the restructuring of the Chinese economy away from heavily polluting industries are all weighing down on demand.

An analysis released Monday by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis suggests coal consumption peaked globally in 2013 and is set to decline a further 2 to 4 percent in 2015 because of declining consumption by China and other big coal consumers.

The institute said China's coal consumption had fallen 5.7 percent from January to September. In the US, domestic consumption was down 11 percent and coal's share of the electricity market has fallen to 35 percent, from 50 percent a decade ago. Record-low US gas prices, record expansion of renewable energy and a decoupling of electricity demand from economic growth are "permanently eroding" coal demand in the US, the Cleveland, Ohio-based IEEFA said.

Still, coal provides more than 40 percent of the world's electricity and 29 percent of its energy supply, second only to oil at 31 percent, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency. The agency projects coal consumption to continue growing somewhat in coming years, largely owing to increased coal demand in India and Southeast Asia.

Coal's future is closely tied to China, the world's biggest coal user, producer and importer. …

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