Despite growing climate change concerns and achievements such as the Paris Agreement, it is predicted that 1,300 GW worth of coal will still be operating by 2040, requiring the need for co-firing with biomass and a renewed focus on Carbon Capture and Storage.
These are the key findings from a new Point of View report published this week by international consulting and engineering company Pöyry, which analyzed the likely retirement of existing global coal capacity. According to Pöyry, global demand for coal has almost doubled since the introduction of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, and the global coal fleet currently makes up around a third of total global electricity generation capacity, as well as around 40% of total electricity generation. Unsurprisingly, given what we have seen of late, and the inherent cheap and abundant nature of coal has allowed it to remain an attractive source of electricity generation. The current coal fleet is spread out across the world, with 45% of it in China, 16% in the US, 9% in India, and 8% in Europe.
Pöyry has developed a retirement profile for existing global coal capacity — though not taking into consideration the expected future expansion of coal capacity — which reveals that without immediate and radical change, it is likely that the coal-fired generation capacity will not be phased out, and will stay in operation to the point where Pöyry predicts around 1,300 GW of coal capacity will still be in operation by 2040.
“Our research has revealed a worrying situation where we risk sleepwalking into the mid-century having not addressed the challenges posed by coal to the environment,” said Matt Brown, Vice President at Pöyry Management Consulting.
“As world leaders gathered at COP21, there was an implied commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Without significant change, that commitment may be difficult to meet with the retirement portfolio we are projecting for coal.
“Increasing the coal fleet’s efficiency is very important but in addition we need to co-fire coal capacity with biomass and push harder on CCS. Sadly on CCS, we are in need of urgent practical progress when it comes to the appraisal and development of CO2 storage sites and the economic model that makes costly CCS plants competitive with their carbon-emitting counterparts.”
The need to clean-up coal is understandable — only the most naive of clean energy proponents believe we have any chance of surviving as a race if we were to simply cut off coal generation now. Cleaning the generation of coal is therefore vital, while at the same time phasing out our reliance upon coal. But as Pöyry hints at in its report, the figures do not take into account the current and planned pipeline of coal.
CoalSwarm’s Global Coal Plant Tracker reported in early September that the global coal plant pipeline had slowed somewhat during the first half of the year — but that only meant the pipeline had dropped from 1,090 GW to 932 GW. Currently, India is planning to build 300 GW of new coal capacity by 2030 — and that’s only one of the many coal-reliant countries planning new capacity.
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