While the recent COP26 made it a sticking point to phase down coal usage, 2022 will see the opposite of that resolution. The new IEA Coal report for 2021 is here and in no uncertain terms, coal consumption is increasing.
In 2021, the demand for coal-fired power has reached a new high despite all of the pushback to retire coal. This increase is due to the three largest coal users: China, India, and the United States. Each is seeing a huge spike in demand.
This is just another example of how far off the world is from achieving its climate goals.
China Is The Biggest Problem When It Comes to Coal
While multiple countries are on the rise, none of them come remotely close to China in terms of coal consumption.
In 2021, China is responsible for half of the world’s coal-fired power generation. And due to the significant boost in demand from the pandemic, their industrial sector needs more energy to keep up. This has led to a 9% increase in demand for just China.
In fact, they are still suffering from a power shortage which causes power rationing throughout the country.
China has agreed to phase down coal, but that pledge will not start until 2025. Most research agrees the world needs to cut back today because it will just make achieving net-zero emissions impossible.
For reference, it is expected for the country to build an additional 150 GW of new coal plants by 2025.
Wait, The United States Is Burning More Coal?
This might come as a shocker as the current administration has been speaking doing a lot to fight climate change, but yes, the US is burning more coal.
So I guess the real question is why?
It’s pretty simple, price. In the last few years, natural gas prices were very low because the previous administration encouraged more drilling and fracking, but that changed.
As a result, the US has stopped producing cheap natural gas for itself and the world.
While the idea was to promote more renewable energy sources, the reality of the situation is that coal, once again, became the cheaper option to produce energy. Thus, the US is burning more coal because it is cheaper than natural gas.
This will lead to a greater carbon footprint than when natural gas was being used in the US.
Ultimately, coal consumption in the US will come down to price. If it is cheaper than natural gas, it will continue to increase.
Is Coal Coming Back?
Yes and no. It’s complicated.
There is no denying that coal consumption is increasing. It’s reliable, usually cheap, and abundant. That’s why it’s been the king of the energy sector for so long. Yet there is also no denying that the world is against coal.
It’s bad for the environment, pollutes the air, and leads to a myriad of health concerns, especially for the coal miners themselves. What we are seeing is part of the world responding to the global pandemic.
It has increased power consumption as more people are home and ordering more products online.
While it’s unlikely to subside next year, I think the coal bubble will pop by 2023.
Robert has been following and writing about environmental stories for years at GreenGeeks. He believes that highlighting environmentally friendly practices can help promote change in every household.