Coal Leads Energy Growth in 2021 and Significantly Overtakes Renewables

(ORDO NEWS) — It happened because of a combination of circumstances – including European efforts to combat global warming. It remains to be seen whether this situation will be sustainable.

The International Energy Agency has published a report on the state of affairs in the world energy for 2021. According to him, the displacement of coal and carbon fuels last year not only stopped, but also went back.

The agency hopes that this is a one-time action, and that coal and gas generation will not grow in the coming years. However, a number of circumstances point in exactly the opposite direction.

In 2020, the global economy experienced a sharp decline in fuel consumption, including thermal coal. This was caused by a reduction in energy consumption due to the drawdown of industry all over the world, with the exception of, from large countries, China alone.

The latter was, of course, growing, as its authorities quickly stopped the coronavirus epidemic, and economic activity there returned to normal in the spring of 2020.

In 2021, Western countries actively vaccinated their populations. And although this did not stop the coronavirus, the death rate from it fell somewhat, and lockdowns became much less frequent.

Together with the continued growth of the Chinese and Indian economies, this has led to a sharp increase in energy demand. Currently, 53% of the world’s coal is consumed by China, and another 12% by India.

In addition, China is actively increasing the consumption of natural gas, since when burned, it emits much less harmful microparticles that kill people than coal. At the same time, Europe created an increased demand for gas: carbon quotas were introduced there last year.

According to them, thermal power plants must pay for the carbon dioxide they emit. When coal is burned per kilowatt-hour of electricity, a multiple more CO2 is generated than when gas is burned. Therefore, since last year, European power plants have begun to sharply spur demand for gas, and they tried to reduce coal combustion to a minimum.

The result was a sharp shortage of gas and the acceleration of gas prices. Countries like China and India cannot afford to burn too much gas at these prices, so they have been forced to switch some of their energy growth to coal – fortunately the European fight against CO2 in the coal market has not created the same “upward” price pressure as it did in the case of gas.

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The International Energy Agency has put together figures for 2021 summarizing the current state of affairs. The generation of electricity from coal last year increased by 9%, HPPs, SPPs and WPPs – by 6%. But since the share of hydroelectric power plants, solar power plants and wind farms in global generation is still a multiple lower than that of coal, coal has satisfied more than half of the total growth in electricity consumption in the world.

For other energy sectors, last year was not so successful. Nuclear power plants have increased their production by only 3.5%, gas – by only 2.0%. The reason for the latter may be the fact that European states, in the framework of the fight against carbon dioxide emissions, are consistently struggling with bank lending to new gas projects.

Therefore, gas production in Europe is declining, and large European companies such as BP and Shell are in no hurry to invest in gas projects abroad. In total, last year the generation of electricity from fossil fuels increased by 950 billion kilowatt-hours (Russia, for comparison, consumes a trillion a year).

Generation from hydroelectric power plants, solar power plants and wind farms increased by 463 billion kilowatt-hours, that is, more than two times less. As a result, the amount of CO2 emitted by the energy sector into the atmosphere increased by 7% in the last year alone.

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It may seem that measures to combat carbon dioxide emissions are dramatically increasing these same emissions. But, although this is true for 2021, this situation is unlikely to repeat in the coming years. The fact is that in 2021 there was a weak La Niña on the planet, the weather in Europe was not very windy, and this noticeably suppressed wind generation there. In addition, last year fertilizer and aluminum plants in Europe tried to operate on regular, year-round schedules.

Now, due to high gas prices, such production has noticeably shrunk there. It is unlikely to recover sustainably anytime soon because high gas prices will become the new normal for a while. Fertilizer production requires a lot of methane, and aluminum – electricity.

The decline in their production in Europe, coupled with the growing generation from wind farms, could lead to a halt in the rapid growth of coal consumption. The stabilization of its consumption in the next three years is predicted in the report of the International Energy Agency.

Most likely, this will happen. However, over longer periods of time, the growth of coal consumption will resume. This is indicated by the closure of nuclear power plants in Germany (the latter will be closed this year) due to anti-nuclear sentiment. Exactly the same closures are scheduled in Japan.

Moreover, the Japanese, realizing that they will not be able to achieve a sustainable replacement of nuclear generation with solar panels, plan to replace them by building 22 new large coal-fired power plants (with a capacity of up to 1.3 gigawatts each).

Less carbon-intensive natural gas was not chosen by the Japanese because it is noticeably more expensive than coal on the world market. Economic growth in China and India continues, and meeting the energy needs of these countries without coal will still cost too much.

In total, China, India, Indonesia, Japan and Vietnam plan to build 600 coal-fired thermal power plants with a total capacity of more than 300 gigawatts. These are not rich countries (only Japan is average in terms of per capita income): having built a power plant, they will not close it in the next 40 years.

And although the Western press actively criticizes these decisions, insisting that electricity from solar and wind farms is already cheaper than from coal, in reality the situation is more complicated: the construction of thermal power plants is still a cheaper way to solve energy problems than windmills or solar panels. About why this is so, Naked Science wrote here .


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