From: Fred Pearce, Environment360
Published December 10, 2015 08:14 AM

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 five years.

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 shut.  

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.