Global coal power set to fall by record, helping emissions growth slow

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Electricity generated from coal-fired plants is set to fall by a record 3% this year, raising chances for slowing global carbon dioxide emissions growth, according to a report released by Carbon Brief.

The global usage rate for coal-fired generation this year is about 54% and suggests that electricity from the plants, which are built to run at or near capacity for extended periods, is more expensive, according to the report, which was written by researchers from several climate research groups, including the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. The decline comes even as new coal-fired generation capacity in places including China and Southeast Asia is rising.

“The global average utilization of coal-fired power plants is on track to hit an all-time low this year, affecting the profitability of both existing and planned capacity,” analysts including Lauri Myllyvirta wrote. “Such a low utilization rate also implies that the electricity they generate is more expensive, as capital costs are paid for by output during fewer running hours.”

The decline equates to about 300 terawatt hours, more than the total amount of power coming from coal in Germany, Spain and UK in 2018. The drop is a result of several big US plants shutting, a decline in India’s coal power generation and as output growth for the fuel in China slows, according to the analysis, which used power sector data for the first seven to 10 months of the year.

Increased electricity output from clean generation as well as slowing or declining demand growth also played a role, according to the report. China saw the first contracts in 2019 for wind and solar that will generate power at the same price as coal.

Coal is one of the biggest polluters. Last year, a 3% increase in carbon dioxide emissions from the generation in the power sector was responsible for 50% of the global increase in fossil fuel emissions, the report said.

Carbon Brief is a U.K.-based website covering developments in climate & energy policies and climate science. Authors of the study include Dave Jones, an analyst at the non-profit Sandbag, and Tim Buckley, director of Australia energy finance studies at the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis


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