At least 15 countries have joined an international alliance to phase out coal use for power generation before 2030.

Britain, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium, Switzerland, New Zealand, Ethiopia, Mexico and the Marshall Islands have joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance.

The alliance aims to have 50 members by the next UN climate summit in 2018.

The alliance further problematizes the future of coal as a fuel for power generation and, by extension, some aspects of its bulk transport.

That being said, some of the world’s biggest coal users – China, the United States, Germany and Russia – are not signatories to the alliance.

China is pressing ahead with its own plans to cut coal use and reduce pollution from the fuel. Research suggests China will invest as much as $780bn in alternative energy by 2030. The country has already switched millions of households to natural gas heating from coal.

In spite of Trump’s effort to bolster the American coal industry, US coal use for power generation is falling. Last year, the fuel accounted for around 30% of the US’s energy mix for power generation. The figure is expected to fall below 25% in 2018.

Wind and solar power account for 10% of all US electricit generation and their use is growing rapidly. The automotive industry has also been working in earnest to bring electric cars to the mass market.

New players
While the Powering Past Coal Alliance aims to end reliance on coal for power generation, new research suggests developing nations have no such intention.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects some 100 GW of new coal-fired capacity to be built in Southeast Asia by 2040, of which 40% of new capacity will be in Indonesia.

Southeast Asia will become a net coal importer by 2040, according to IEA estimates. Production in the region is forecast to fall during the period, while its import demand will rise 3.7% per annum to 387 mtce, the agency said.

Vietnam, which recently overtook Thailand as the second-largest coal consumer in Southeast Asia, will become the largest regional importer by 2040, the IEA said.

The Indian government has been working to reduce the country’s coal imports, which fell between May and August this year. However, India imported 16.8m tonnes of coal in October, up from 16.1m in September.

The petroleum coke ban has been a contributor to this trend, as has steady demand for coal in power generation and steel manufacturing.

New Delhi banned the burning of petcoke on November 1st in an effort to curb air pollution from the fuel.

Ironically, the ban means that users are switching to burning coal and more of it. Thermal coal has lower energy value than petcoke, meaning higher volumes need to be burned in order to achieve the same energy yield.

New research published this week by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis predicts that India will reach peak thermal coal demand within the next decade. The country is expected to significantly increase its share of renewable energy generation, which will gradually displace coal use.

Matter of time
It’s just a matter of time before Indian authorities take more drastic steps to limit coal burning and pollution, most probably through renewable energies.

It won’t be long before the hundreds of billions of dollars that China is investing in renewables begin to effect meaningful change on the country’s energy mix for power generation.

Is it safe to guess that renewable energies will ultimately prove to be a bigger money-spinner than America’s beleaguered coal industry?

Whenever we talk about coal, it always seems inevitable that any bullishness will be short-lived. The world has changed.

Source: Hellenic Shipping News.