Coal has lots of staying power
There's a huge gap between the persistence of coal consumption and rapid moves away from the most carbon-heavy fuel needed to keep global climate goals viable.
Driving the news: Fresh data and reporting offer a window into long-term trends, but also recent changes spurred by Russia's war on Ukraine.
The big picture: Global coal-fired power rebounded last year to record levels amid high natural gas prices and economic revival from the pandemic, per the International Energy Agency and data-tracking green group Ember.
- And now the crisis in Europe is pushing in the same direction, even as EU leaders hope to speed their clean energy transition.
- "Russia’s invasion...turbocharged the coal market, setting off a domino effect that’s leaving power producers scrambling for supply and pushing prices to record levels," Bloomberg reports.
- It notes higher coal-fired power use in China — the world's biggest consumer — and other large users including the U.S., India, the European Union, and elsewhere in Asia.
- AP reports China is "promoting coal-fired power as the ruling Communist Party tries to revive a sluggish economy."
Zoom in: The group Global Energy Monitor (GEM) this week published its latest data on coal-fired power plant development and shutdowns.
- 2021 saw another 18.2 gigawatts (GW) of capacity added to the world's operating coal plant fleet of roughly 2,100 GW, while shut-downs slowed.
- Another 176 GW of capacity is under construction, per the report from GEM, the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, the climate think tank E3G and other groups.
- China is driving new plant development. But the report also notes some developed nations plan to operate plants "far beyond the deadlines required by climate science."
Threat level: None of this meshes with holding global warming below potentially catastrophic levels."New investments in coal-fired electricity without [carbon capture and storage] are inconsistent with limiting warming to 2°C or 1.5°C," UN-convened scientists said in a major report this month.
Yes, but: GEM sees bright spots in coal phaseout and climate commitments ahead of, and at, last year's UN climate summit.
- "Only 170 plants (89 GW), or 5% of the operating fleet today, are not covered by a phase-out date or carbon neutrality target," they find.
- "Still, few of these plants are scheduled to retire on the timelines required by the Paris climate agreement."
Charting coal additions and subtractions
The amount of coal-fired generating capacity brought online last year fell, but again outpaced retirements, new data from Global Energy Monitor shows.
- Over half the newly added capacity is in China.
- The report also finds significant amounts in the development and planning stages.