What is the future of coal power production?
Is Paris the beginning of the end for coal? Coal burning is declining
fast in both of the world's two largest carbon dioxide emitters, China
and the the United States, with resulting declines in the emissions of
both countries. The fuel looks incompatible with a world that warms by
no more than two degrees Celsius, bringing calls for its rapid phaseout
as the world is "decarbonized."
But, with or without a deal here in Paris later this week, will the
calls be heeded? Has the demise of King Coal been greatly exaggerated?
In the U.S., "coal has gone from boom to bust," says Michael Brune,
executive director of the Sierra Club. The black stuff's share of
electricity generation has sunk from 53 percent to 35 percent in just
There are many reasons for this. Among them are citizens' campaigns
about pollution and asthma, tougher government regulation, and the rise
of fracked natural gas, which has lower emissions. But with almost half
the country's existing coal plants up for retirement, the coal market is
collapsing, and with it the share prices of mining giants like Peabody
and Arch Coal.
As coal plants closed in the U.S., those mining companies initially
planned to export to China, which in recent years has been burning
almost half the world's coal. But that strategy has failed. In 2015,
China's coal imports crashed by a third as coal plants there were
The Chinese coal crash could prove to be a temporary response to
economic slowdown and fears about severe
air pollution. The Cleveland-based Institute for Energy Economics
and Financial Analysis says China had more than 100 gigawatts of
coal-fired power plants standing idle during the year. What has been
switched off could be switched back on again.
Coal-fired power plant image via Shutterstock.
Read more at Environment360.