A report from E3G, Global Energy Monitor and Ember argues: “The global pipeline of proposed coal power plants has collapsed by 76% since the Paris Agreement in 2015, bringing the end of new coal power into view.”
The Guardian reports:
Solar, wind and other renewable sources have toppled coal in energy generation in the United States for the first time in over 130 years, with the coronavirus pandemic accelerating a decline in coal that has profound implications for the climate crisis.
Not since wood was the main source of American energy in the 19th century has a renewable resource been used more heavily than coal, but 2019 saw a historic reversal, according to US government figures.
Coal consumption fell by 15%, down for the sixth year in a row, while renewables edged up by 1%. This meant renewables surpassed coal for the first time since at least 1885, a year when Mark Twain published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Americaâ€™s first skyscraper was erected in Chicago.
As always with fighting climate change, it’s not enough to be moving in the right direction; we need to move toward decarbonization quickly enough to prevent climate change from getting out of control. Accelerating, completing, and replicating the US abandonment of coal must be a durable worldwide project.
In 2014, I posted about an article about how Germany and Japan were reverting to coal after the Fukushima disaster.
I just saw this:
BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany should shut down all of its coal-fired power plants by 2038 at the latest, a government-appointed commission said on Saturday, proposing at least 40 billion euros ($45.7 billion) in aid to regions affected by the phase-out.
2038 is awfully slow for such a toxic and climate-wrecking form of energy, but it’s good that Germany is gaining experience in phasing out fossil fuels and how to make it politically palatable
The Guardian is reporting that G20 countries have tripled their subsidies for coal:
The figures, published in a report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and others, show that Japan is one of the biggest financial supporters of coal, despite the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, having said in September: â€œClimate change can be life-threatening to all generations â€¦ We must take more robust actions and reduce the use of fossil fuels.â€ The annual G20 meeting begins in Japan on Friday.
China and India give the biggest subsidies to coal, with Japan third, followed by South Africa, South Korea, Indonesia and the US. While the UK frequently runs its own electricity grid without any coal power at all, a parliamentary report in June criticised the billions of pounds used to help to build fossil fuel power plants overseas.
The material from the Overseas Development Institute being reported on is online: G20 coal subsidies: tracking government support to a fading industry. The executive summary explains: “G20 governments continue to support coal through US$27.6 billion in domestic and international public finance, US$15.4 billion in fiscal support, and US$20.9 billion in state-owned enterprise (SOE) investments per year across the G20. This includes support through a wide range of instruments to prop up coal production, coal-fired power production, and other consumption of coal and coal-fired power, as well as support which is justified as a means of facilitating the transition away from coal.”
The Economist reports:
[A]ccording to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the amount of greenhouse gases emitted in America dropped by 2.7% in his first year of office. This was the biggest reduction anywhere in the rich world.
Andrew Wheeler, the former coal lobbyist who now heads the EPA, has been quick to praise â€œPresident Trumpâ€™s regulatory reform agendaâ€ for this. In fact, the decline has little to do with the presidentâ€™s policies. Americaâ€™s carbon dioxide emissions have been on a downward trajectory since 2007, mostly because power plants have been switching to cheaper, cleaner natural gas and away from Mr Trumpâ€™s beloved rock. According to the Energy Information Administration, a government agency, America guzzled nearly equal quantities of coal and natural gas in 2007. Today natural gas provides twice as much energy as coal. Energy from renewable sources, like wind and solar, now make up just over 10% of Americaâ€™s energy consumption.
Since 2010 nearly 40% of the countryâ€™s coal-generating capacity has either been shut down or designated for closure. This is mostly because rival fuels were cheaper, rather than the Obama administrationâ€™s Clean Power Plan, which was much derided but never actually went into effect. Even under Mr Trump, coal plants are expected to shut down 11.4gw of capacity this year, the most since 2015. No American utility plans to build a new coal-fired plant; most of the existing ones are at least 40 years old. The environmental regulations that the Trump administration is trying to undo will not restore the coal industry to its glory days, though they might slow its decline.
As always, the fight against climate change isn’t just about moving in the right direction, but moving fast enough to avoid disaster.
Still, every setback for coal is welcome for those hoping for a safe and prosperous future.
A Finnish government representative is saying they will introduce legislation to phase out coal and bring in a carbon tax in 2018.
The Pembina Institute’s Binnu Jeyakumar recently wrote an op-ed about the future of coal:
In the midst of all the recent colourful political events south of the border, you might have easily missed an irony that Alberta would be wise to pay attention to. Even as the U.S. administration promised to roll back environmental regulations and climate commitments, U.S. coal plants continued to shut down. In fact, on the same day the U.S. pulled out of the Paris Agreement, three coal-fired plants were shut down. In 2016 alone, U.S. utilities retired more than twice the total coal capacity of Alberta.
Coal plants are shutting down across the globe because of their negative health impacts and low profitability. Coal has a hard time competing with cheap gas generation and increasingly cheap renewable energy. It is why financiers and utilities are stepping away from coal in all OECD countries. In growing economies, the investment in renewables is far exceeding that in coal power; and coal usage has peaked in countries such as China. As the full cost of electricity production (including the impacts of emissions) is accounted for, coal plants will only become more expensive.
The weight of the evidence is against those, such as Robin Campbell, who blame regulations and government policy for coal shut downs. However, Mr. Campbell is right in pointing out the need for a rhetoric-free transition plan that is sensitive to the needs of the workers and the communities. But such a plan must also be free of rhetoric about the future of coal; the phase-out is inevitable.
It’s an encouraging perspective, though it doesn’t seem to fully factor in China’s frightening enthusiasm for building new coal plants abroad.
Jeyakumar goes on to stress the importance of retraining, which I agree is crucial both ethically and pragmatically. It’s a hard sell to tell a community that the good of the world requires them to rapidly transition away from an industry which has been an important economic driver. It’s callous and counterproductive not to offer material assistance for doing so.
Americaâ€™s gas boom has prompted its coal miners to seek new export markets, sending prices plunging on world markets. So long as consumers do not pay for coalâ€™s horrible side-effects, that makes it irresistibly cheap. In Germany power from coal now costs half the price of watts from a gas-fired power station. It is a paradox that coal is booming in a country that in other respects is the greenest in Europe. Its production of power from cheap, dirty brown coal (lignite) is now at 162 billion kilowatt hours, the highest since the days of the decrepit East Germany.
Japan, too, is turning to coal in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. On April 11th the government approved a new energy plan entrenching its role as a long-term electricity source.
The article also notes how costly coal with carbon capture and storage is, with a $5.2 billion power plant in Mississippi costing nearly seven times as much as a gas plant with equivalent output.
In a survey on nuclear power written for The Economist, Oliver Morton does a good job of explaining one of the reasons why nuclear power is unlike any other form of electricity generation:
In liberalised energy markets, building nuclear power plants is no longer a commercially feasible option: they are simply too expensive. Existing reactors can be run very profitably; their capacity can be upgraded and their lives extended. But forecast reductions in the capital costs of new reactors in America and Europe have failed to materialise and construction periods have lengthened. Nobody will now build one without some form of subsidy to finance it or a promise of a favourable deal for selling the electricity. And at the same time as the cost of new nuclear plants has become prohibitive in much of the world, worries about the dark side of nuclear power are resurgent, thanks to what is happening in Iran.
None of this contradicts the argument that we need more nuclear plants to deal with climate change, but it does highlight some of the special risks associated with the technology.