Peak Coal?

Guest “Sometimes an annoying comment inspires a post,” by David Middleton

If I had $1 for every time I’ve heard someone say, “coal is dead” or “coal use peaked in 2014,” I wouldn’t have to find oil & gas for a living.

In my post yesterday regarding an unexpected sudden resurgence in coal demand, once again dooming the climate, one commentator claimed that nothing in my post refuted the notion that coal demand peaked in 2014 and was in terminal decline. (I hate run on sentences!) This is true, nothing in that post refuted that notion because it wasn’t the subject of that post, making the comment a Strawman Logical Fallacy.

Torching a Strawman

This is from the Energy Information Administration’s 2020 International Energy Outlook, published in October 2020:

Figure 1. Primary energy consumption, line chart, as it appears in IEO2020.

It’s important to note that the EIA lumps hydroelectric in with renewables. If I was putting the chart together, I would have segregated them. I would have also not included biofuels with petroleum liquids… But you couldn’t see their contribution to the chart even if you segregated them.

While the original title highlights the projected increase in renewable energy, note that no other energy sources significantly decline over the full projection period, not even coal, which was then projected to top its 2014 peak by 2048.

If I plot the exact same data as a stacked area chart (like I would plot production data from an oil field), I get a totally different headline.

Figure 2. Primary energy consumption, stacked area chart. EIA chart modified by this author.

The forecasted growth in renewables is impressive. It almost offsets the total rise in demand. However, renewables aren’t expected to replace anything in the EIA’s base case forecast. The expectation was for renewables to not quite cover the increase in total demand.

Renewables aren’t even doing that because…

Texas Railroad Commissioner Wayne Christian had a new nickname for renewables while speaking at NAPE:

“We have been spending so much time in supporting wind and solar — the unreliables — that we have let the pilot light go out on our reliables.”


Sergio Chapa, Energy Reporter at Bloomberg News

Wayne Christian is the Chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, the agency charged with regulating oil & gas drilling & production in Texas. (I don’t know who regulates railroads in Texas.)

With unreliables failing to keep up the sudden resurgence in energy demand…

Let’s roll forward to April 20, 2021

Coal close to 2014 peak

Global coal demand in 2021 was forecast to rise 4.5% year on year, approaching its 2014 peak, the report said. Over 80% of the growth would be concentrated in Asia, China alone accounting for over 50% of the increase in coal burn.

“The expected rise in coal use dwarfs that of renewables by almost 60%, despite accelerating demand for renewables,” the IEA said.

Coal demand in the US and the EU was seen staging only a partial recovery, remaining well below pre-COVID-19 levels and in structural decline.

S&P Global/Platts

On to July 8, 2021

American coal production this year will swell 15% to meet stronger demand for electricity at home and abroad, according to the U.S. Energy Department’s July outlook. That would be the most since at least 1990 and nearly double the 8% increase projected in May, when the economic rebound was still in earlier stages of recovery.

Bloomberg Green

Next on to July 15, 2021

However, coal-fired electricity generation is set to increase by almost 5% this year and by a further 3% in 2022, potentially reaching an all-time high, according to the Electricity Market Report. Gas-fired generation, which declined 2% in 2020, is expected to increase by 1% in 2021 and by nearly 2% in 2022. The growth of gas lags that of coal because it plays a smaller role in the fast-growing economies in the Asia Pacific region and it faces competition from renewables in Europe and North America.


And then to August 13, 2021

The coal price has skyrocketed in 2021 – what does it mean for net zero?
August 13, 2021

Michael Tamvakis
Professor of Commodity Economics and Finance, City, University of London

It is only a few days since the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) signalled the dire consequences of human-induced climate change. At the heart of this stark warning by UN Secretary General António Guterres and the scientists behind the report was the urgent need to heavily reduce coal in the energy mix.

Yet in the run-up to publication, and absent from mainstream news headlines, was the steady ascent of coal prices, past US$100 (£72) per metric tonne in June and then past US$130 in mid-July to over US$170 today. This is almost four times the price last September.

The rise in prices can be attributed squarely to a resurgence of demand after the depths of the pandemic – especially in emerging Asian markets such as China and India, but also in Japan, South Korea, Europe and the US. Electricity demand, which remains closely linked to coal, is expected to have increased by 5% across 2021 and a further 4% in 2022.


Stubborn coal

Coal has two main uses, electricity generation and steel manufacturing, with the former responsible for about two-thirds of what is consumed. The faster we can remove coal from electricity generation, the higher the likelihood of achieving the Paris Agreement targets.

Yet coal seems to be resilient, if not stubborn, when it comes to its elimination. Since 2010, the percentage share of natural gas in total global electricity generation has stayed the same at 23% even though the world’s power consumption has risen by about a quarter. The percentage share of renewables, excluding hydroelectricity, has tripled and its actual generation in terawatt hours (TWh) has quadrupled. Meanwhile, coal has lost share, down to 35% from 40%, but it remains way ahead of natural gas, its closest competitor, and the amount of coal that we burn for electricity has gone up overall.

The reality is that coal makes good business sense. Coal-fired power plants have long been big enough to make the building costs economically viable, with the largest plants boasting a capacity of 5GW. The fuel is relatively cheap most of the time, and the biggest consumers, China, the US and India, all enjoy politically safe supplies.

Coal-fired generation is steady and predictable, making it suitable for ensuring the minimum level of electricity a country continually needs – known as the baseload. 


The Conversation

  • The reality is that coal makes good business sense.
  • “What does it mean for net zero?”

It means…

But… You weren’t going to get there anyway.

And finally on to Wednesday…

Climate Doomed by Coal… Again

While we won’t have full year 2021 coal production and consumption numbers until sometime next year… Just follow the money…

Figure 3. International Monetary Fund, Global price of Coal, Australia [PCOALAUUSDM], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis;, August 24, 2021. FRED

And now for the annoying comment…

The IEA thinks that coal use peaked in 2014.

Now, I didn’t see any contradictory 2021 data in the body of your post, but I didn’t open up every link either. So, if you have a 1 year counter trend, would you please point it out to us?

Big Oil Bob

At the time, the annoying comment was this:

Figure 4. A Strawman Logical Fallacy. At no point in the post did I claim that global coal consumption had increased relative to some point in the past.

Now, the annoying comment is this:

Figure 5. A torched Strawman.

This just in…

Aug 26, 2021, 09:32am EDT
China Drives Dramatic Rise In Global Emissions In 2021

David Blackmon, Senior Contributor, Energy

A few weeks back I wrote a story that proposed that we all quit talking about so-called “peak oil” demand since, according to various sources, the world has not yet even managed to achieve “peak coal” demand.


An August 25 story in the Axios Generate newsletter cites a new report from Ember, titled “Building Back Badly: Global Power Sector Emissions Soar.” Ember, an environmentalist think-tank based in London, finds that global carbon emissions have risen to new highs during 2021 as national economies recover from the COVID pandemic. The study finds that global carbon emissions for June, 2021, were 7% higher than levels seen during June, 2019.


As reported by Axios, two additional key findings in the report are:

*The data shows that while 57% of the growth in electricity demand came from wind and solar power, a large fraction — 43% — has been met by firing up carbon-intensive coal power plants, especially in China, Bangladesh, Mongolia and Vietnam.

*No single country out of the 63 nations analysts examined has achieved a “green recovery” for the electricity sector, which features higher electricity demand and lower emissions.



This deserves repeating…

No single country out of the 63 nations analysts examined has achieved a “green recovery” for the electricity sector, which features higher electricity demand and lower emissions.

It looks like we’re going to have to kick CCS/CCUS business into overdrive sooner than expected.

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via Watts Up With That?

August 27, 2021 at 04:34AM

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