Is the Downfall of Coal Power Here?

How many new coal plant plans have been scrapped in the USA since 2001? None?  How could it be a single one?!  We are as power hungry as ever and need every drop we can get; especially from cheap coal, right? Well in actual fact the 150th coal plant has just been scrapped. The USA is not alone.  The much debated new Kingsnorth plant in Kent, England was also canceled last Autumn. In Germany, although “needed”, plans for new coal plants are falling to the hands of climate activists. Groups such as “Coal Free Mainz” and “No Coal Power for Wiesbaden” have been successful in stopping dozens of new plants. So what is going on?

Firstly coal’s recession is a slow process.  Power plants tend to have a life span of 40- 50 years and therefore they only bump their clogs very slowly. The environmental activists recognise the risk of replacement plants forcing us into a dirty energy future.  They need to be stopped.  That is most certainly happening with coal plants in advanced economies.  Multimedia campaigns targeting politicians, public opinion and investors are squeezing coal. It is also partly due to investors’ unwillingness to buy into coal with its more than uncertain future.

Why Is Coal’s Future Uncertain?

1)      The risk of carbon markets taking force will result in massive upheavals for coal.  Carbon markets are coming into being in many economies now.  Europe, California, Japan and China either already have markets or are planning them.

2)      Strong competition to coal plants from renewables is risking their status as the base power of the major economies. Countries such as Denmark, Norway, Germany and Portugal are sapping now massive amounts of green energy. Solar energy is already becoming cheaper than gas.  Southern Californian Edison has just bought solar power for 20 years at a cheaper price than the rate for natural gas.  The alternatives are becoming more numerous, cheaper and more secure.

But that is not the case everywhere:

In China coal power plants are still being built at an incredible rate of one every two weeks, but that said they put up a wind turbine every two hours. The phenomenal demand for power in China means that the dark empire of coal is broadening its empire

Coal its in your hands. Image Courtesy of EcoLocalizer

However China is not a single cell entity.  Its thirst for energy depends on others too. Australian and exports from other countries make up half of the coal that China needs now that domestic production no longer meets demand.  Australia a country that has in the last decade been battered by one natural catastrophe after another may not be so willing in the future to feed China and for that matter the world’s addiction.  Does it make sense that they have to bring in a flood tax to pay for the 100 year floods in Queensland whilst remaining the largest exporter of coal?

Coal is on its death bed in advanced economies with low growth in power demand.  China and India may continue to use coal, but it is only a matter of time that here too the unsustainability of this energy source becomes clear and the use of it to power economies will end.  The problem is that the havoc that coal is having on the climate needs to be combatted and ended today.

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