The United States electric power sector used 30 percent less coal in the first half of 2020, compared to the same period in 2019. That accounts for 184.8 million short tons (MMst) of coal used in the first half of this year, acc0rding to data released by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports. Coal hit its record in 2007 with 1,045 MMst. Coal plant retirements, environmental regulations, and natural gas conversions, and the lower cost of natural gas, are some of the many factors contributing to coal’s decline in use. The EIA, in its Short-Term Energy Outlook, expects electric power coal consumption to rebound in the second half of the year, but it remains at lower levels than in 2019. Consumption levels are at their lowest level since 1975. On the other hand, electricity demand overall has been significantly reduced since the start of mandated Covid-19 economic slowdowns.
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West sours on coal, rest of world different
As Europe, the U.S., and parts of Asia sour on coal, the rest of the world is not through yet. The global coal-fired generation market is estimated to account for 2,057 GW in volume by the end of 2027, according to report from Coherent Market Insights. Due to increasingly stringent emissions standards, demand for coal gasification and fluidized bed combustions is expected to increase.
Toshiba, Siemens Energy, GE and Black & Veatch all announced some form of drawdown of investments in the coal sector in recent months, which follows years of government pledges to reduce carbon emissions. Even the prime minister of Japan, a country heavily reliant on coal, announced carbon reduction targets last month. The reality is increasingly clear. Natural gas is cheaper, and its infrastructure can be made more efficient and capable of burning less carbon-intensive fuel. Renewables now offer greater financial returns than fossil fuels, at least in the U.S., U.K., and Europe, according to a May report by the International Energy Agency.