Although the main source of energy in the 19th century, coal lost importance in the global mix but its production continued to grow until 2014 before stagnating in the last two years.
The first coal-producing countries are in descending order: China, India, the United States, Australia, Indonesia, Russia, South Africa, Germany and Poland.
This list already explains the position of these countries when it comes to ban in the short term coal for environmental issues: for them, it is a whole industrial sector which must be helped through its reconversion.
The list is even more significant when one looks at the share of coal in the energy mix. It represents 92% in South Africa, 76% in India, 76% in Poland, 73% in Australia, 57% in China, 49% in Indonesia, 39% in Germany, 30% in the United States and 16% in Russia. In addition to the potential turn-around of an industrial sector, huge investments have to be made by countries where coal weighs more than a third in the energy mix.
The detractors of coal and the fight against global warming pose enormous challenges:
– How can China and India find, in a reasonable time, the financial resources and production capacity for alternative sources of electricity?
– How to reconvert in a short time the coal industry in South Africa, India, China and Poland?
– How can the major coal producing and consuming countries be guaranteed a transition assuring them the same level of energy independence?
Coal is the most important CO2-emitting source of energy, 30% more emitting than oil and 70% more emitting than gas. This is what makes coal the symbol of the impact of fossil fuels on global warming.
Given this impact, some countries have already announced, symbolically, their willingness to close their coal plants: France, for example, committed to 2022. These countries are those for which this closure has the weakest impact: they are not part of the biggest coal consumers and producers.
Coal provides a continuous, predictable and adjustable production flow of electricity. As such, it probably generates less costs than intermittent energies. Lazard evaluates it in 2016 in the United States as a rather cheap energy (at least $ 60 / MWh), but still more expensive than combined cycle gas plants (at least $ 48 / MWh) and than wind and solar in some conditions.
This raw data excludes the induced costs that disadvantage intermittent energies and the cost of CO2 emissions that penalizes electricity from thermal sources.
A global approach shows that coal is not always the least expensive source of electricity: a mix that relies heavily on it no longer makes sense. But the fact that some coal-producing countries retain a share of coal-based electricity leads to finding ways to reduce its environmental impact.
CO2 capture and storage projects are launched in Germany and the United States. These solutions will only be sustained if the price of CO2 still gives them an acceptable profitability over the long term.
In the meantime, coal may well be the banned source of energy on the way of its soon decline!
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