If you live in a developed country, it’s been clear that the appetite for coal power is falling.
Not only has coal been singled out as a primary source of carbon emissions and air pollution, but it’s also been getting phased out in favor of cheap natural gas in some regions around the world.
In the U.S., electricity generation from coal has been dropping since the late 2000s, and in Europe the departure from coal has accelerated even quicker. In fact, it’s estimated that European coal power output could fall 23% in 2019 alone.
A Different Global Story
However, despite a growing consensus around the use of thermal coal in the West, the global story is actually quite different.
Today’s animation from SVT Nyheter details every coal power plant in the world from 1927 to 2019, and it shows that coal power — especially in South Asia — has continued to ramp up.
As of 2019, there are an estimated 2,425 coal-fired power plants in the world, combining for an operating capacity of about 2,000 GW and roughly 15 billion tonnes of CO₂ emissions.
Global Tipping Point?
Since 2010, there have been hundreds of new coal power plants commissioned — and almost all of them can be found somewhere in Asia:
|Country||Coal capacity (2010)||Coal capacity (2018)||% change (2010-2018)|
|China||630,238 MW||972,514 MW||+54%|
|India||100,037 MW||220,670 MW||+121%|
|Other Asia||127,515 MW||191,088 MW||+50%|
However, it seems that this could be the year that the story changes.
Preliminary data suggests that Indian coal consumption could drop in 2019 for the first time in over a decade. Meanwhile, it’s expected that China’s growing coal capacity could be fully offset by decreasing use of the fossil fuel in developed nations.
As a result, according to Carbon Brief, global coal power generation could fall 3% in 2019:
If this trend continues, it could be a sign of a tipping point in global coal consumption — and if the sentiment around coal shifts the same way in China, the potential impact could be amplified even further.
Will 2020 provide additional evidence towards a global sea change in coal dependence, or is 2019 just a blip on the radar?