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The Future of Global Coal Production (2021-2024F)

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future coal production by country

The Future of Global Coal Production Visualized

Coal is the world’s most affordable energy fuel, and as such, the world’s biggest commodity market for electricity generation.

Unfortunately, that low-cost energy comes at a high cost for the environment, with coal being the largest source of energy-related CO2 emissions.

Despite its large footprint, coal was in high demand in 2021. As economies reopened following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries struggled to meet resurgent energy needs. As a readily available low-cost energy source, coal filled the supply gap, with global coal consumption increasing by 450 million tonnes or around +6% in 2021.

This graphic looks at the IEA’s coal production forecasts for 2024, and the specific countries projected to reduce or increase their production over the next few years.

Which Countries Are Increasing (or Reducing) Coal Production?

Global coal production was a topic of scrutiny at the COP26 conference held in November of 2021, where 40 countries pledged to stop issuing permits and direct government support for new coal-fired power plants.

However, many of the top coal-producing countries did not commit to the pledge. China, the U.S., India, Russia, and Australia abstained, and of those five, only the U.S. is forecasted to reduce coal production in the next two years.

CountryCoal Production (2021)Coal Production (2024F)Share (2024F)Change (2021–2024F)
🇨🇳 China3,925 Mt3,982 Mt50%+57 Mt
🇮🇳 India793 Mt955 Mt12%+162 Mt
🇮🇩 Indonesia576 Mt570 Mt7%-6 Mt
🇺🇸 United States528 Mt484 Mt6%-44 Mt
🇦🇺 Australia470 Mt477 Mt6%+7 Mt
🇷🇺 Russia429 Mt 445 Mt5%+16 Mt
🇪🇺 European Union329 Mt247 Mt3%-82 Mt
🌐 Other839 Mt855 Mt11%+16 Mt

Source: IEA

With 15 EU countries signing the pledge, the European Union is forecasted to see the greatest drop in coal production at 82 million tonnes, along with the greatest forecasted reduction in coal consumption (101 million tonnes, a 23% reduction).

Reducing Coal-Fired Power Generation in the U.S.

The U.S. and Indonesia are the other two major producers forecasted to reduce their reliance on coal. The U.S. is projected to cut coal production by 7.5% or 44 million tonnes, while Indonesia’s reduction is forecasted at 6 million tonnes, or just a 1% cut of its 2021 production.

Despite not joining the COP26 pledge, the U.S. is still noticeably pursuing short and long-term initiatives to reduce coal-fired power generation.

In fact, 85% of U.S. electric generating capacity retirements in 2022 are forecast to be coal-fired generators, and there are further plans to retire 28% (59 GW) of currently operational coal-fired capacity by 2035.

Coal Makes Energy Ends Meet in China and India

Modern consumption and production are instead focused in Asia.

China and India produce almost 60% of the world’s coal, and are expected to increase their production by more than 200 million tonnes per year, collectively. All this coal goes towards meeting the insatiable energy demands of both nations.

While China has pledged to start cutting down coal consumption in 2026, the country also announced the construction of 43 new coal-fired power plants to meet energy demand until then. Part of the additional production is driven by a need to reduce the country’s dependence on coal imports, which are expected to drop by 51 million tonnes or 16% from 2021–2024.

By 2024, China’s coal consumption is forecasted to rise by 3.3% and India’s by 12.2%, which would make the two countries responsible for two-thirds of the world’s coal consumption.

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Energy Shift

Mapped: Solar and Wind Power by Country

Wind and solar generate over a tenth of the world’s electricity. Taken together, they are the fourth-largest source of electricity, behind coal, gas, and hydro.

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Solar and Wind per Country

Mapped: Solar and Wind Power by Country

Wind and solar generate over a tenth of the world’s electricity. Taken together, they are the fourth-largest source of electricity, behind coal, gas, and hydro.

This infographic based on data from Ember shows the rise of electricity from these two clean sources over the last decade.

Europe Leads in Wind and Solar

Wind and solar generated 10.3% of global electricity for the first time in 2021, rising from 9.3% in 2020, and doubling their share compared to 2015 when the Paris Climate Agreement was signed.

In fact, 50 countries (26%) generated over a tenth of their electricity from wind and solar in 2021, with seven countries hitting this landmark for the first time: China, Japan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Argentina, Hungary, and El Salvador.

Denmark and Uruguay achieved 52% and 47% respectively, leading the way in technology for high renewable grid integration.

RankTop Countries Solar/Wind Power Share
#1🇩🇰 Denmark 51.9%
#2🇺🇾 Uruguay 46.7%
#3🇱🇺 Luxembourg 43.4%
#4🇱🇹 Lithuania 36.9%
#5🇪🇸 Spain 32.9%
#6🇮🇪 Ireland 32.9%
#7🇵🇹 Portugal 31.5%
#8🇩🇪 Germany 28.8%
#9🇬🇷 Greece 28.7%
#10🇬🇧 United Kingdom 25.2%

From a regional perspective, Europe leads with nine of the top 10 countries. On the flipside, the Middle East and Africa have the fewest countries reaching the 10% threshold.

Further Renewables Growth Needed to meet Global Climate Goals

The electricity sector was the highest greenhouse gas emitting sector in 2020.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the sector needs to hit net zero globally by 2040 to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goals of limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees. And to hit that goal, wind and solar power need to grow at nearly a 20% clip each year to 2030.

Despite the record rise in renewables, solar and wind electricity generation growth currently doesn’t meet the required marks to reach the Paris Agreement’s goals.

In fact, when the world faced an unprecedented surge in electricity demand in 2021, only 29% of the global rise in electricity demand was met with solar and wind.

Transition Underway

Even as emissions from the electricity sector are at an all-time high, there are signs that the global electricity transition is underway.

Governments like the U.S., Germany, UK, and Canada are planning to increase their share of clean electricity within the next decade and a half. Investments are also coming from the private sector, with companies like Amazon and Apple extending their positions on renewable energy to become some of the biggest buyers overall.

More wind and solar are being added to grids than ever, with renewables expected to provide the majority of clean electricity needed to phase out fossil fuels.

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Energy Shift

How Far Are We From Phasing Out Coal?

In 2021 coal-fired electricity generation reached all-time highs. Here’s the pathway that would be needed to phase it out of the energy mix.

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How Far Are We from Phasing Out Coal?

At the COP26 conference last year, 40 nations agreed to phase coal out of their energy mixes.

Despite this, in 2021, coal-fired electricity generation reached all-time highs globally, showing that eliminating coal from the energy mix will not be a simple task.

This infographic shows the aggressive phase-out of coal power that would be required in order to reach net zero goals by 2050, based on an analysis by Ember that uses data provided by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Low-Cost Comes at a High Environmental Cost

Coal-powered electricity generation rose by 9.0% in 2021 to 10,042 Terawatt-hours (TWh), marking the biggest percentage rise since 1985.

The main reason is cost. Coal is the world’s most affordable energy fuel. Unfortunately, low-cost energy comes at a high cost for the environment, with coal being the largest source of energy-related CO2 emissions.

China has the highest coal consumption, making up 54% of the world’s coal electricity generation. The country’s consumption jumped 12% between 2010 and 2020, despite coal making up a lower percentage of the country’s energy mix in relative terms.

Top Consumers2020 Consumption (Exajoules) Share of global consumption
China 🇨🇳82.354.3%
India 🇮🇳17.511.6%
United States 🇺🇸9.26.1%
Japan 🇯🇵4.63.0%
South Africa 🇿🇦3.52.3%
Russia 🇷🇺3.32.2%
Indonesia 🇮🇩3.32.2%
South Korea 🇰🇷3.02.0%
Vietnam 🇻🇳2.11.4%
Germany 🇩🇪1.81.2%

Together, China and India account for 66% of global coal consumption and emit about 35% of the world’s greenhouse gasses (GHG). If you add the United States to the mix, this goes up to 72% of coal consumption and 49% of GHGs.

How Urgent is to Phase Out Coal?

According to the United Nations, emissions from current and planned fossil energy infrastructure are already more than twice the amount that would push the planet over 1.5°C of global heating, a level that scientists say could bring more intense heat, fire, storms, flooding, and drought than the present 1.2°C.

Apart from being the largest source of CO2 emissions, coal combustion is also a major threat to public health because of the fine particulate matter released into the air.

As just one example of this impact, a recent study from Harvard University estimates air pollution from fossil fuel combustion is responsible for 1 in 5 deaths globally.

The Move to Renewables

Coal-powered electricity generation must fall by 13% every year until 2030 to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goals of keeping global heating to only 1.5 degrees.

To reach the mark, countries would need to speed up the shift from their current carbon-intensive pathways to renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

How fast the transition away from coal will be achieved depends on a complicated balance between carbon emissions cuts and maintaining economic growth, the latter of which is still largely dependent on coal power.

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