Is Coal Dying?

Posted on Wed 06/17/2015 by


TonyfromOzProfileImageBy Anton Lang ~

The short answer is no.

If you were to believe what you read virtually everywhere, then you would think that coal is dying. Both with the mining of coal and its many uses, especially for the generation of electrical power on a huge scale, you read that is is being phased out, replaced by renewable power generation.

It’s not true at all.

This last Monday night, Australia’s ABC aired on its Four Corners program a documentary titled The End Of Coal. The program wheeled out only commentators which gave the side of the story which agreed with the title of the program. If you were to believe what was said during this hour of talk, then you might think that coal is reaching the end of its life.

I have found an article from the Global Warming Policy Forum from just a day ago which dispels some of those myths that coal is dying. (and that article is shown at this link)

The article says that global coal use is in fact growing faster than any other form of energy. An excerpt from that article shows this. (here, I have added the bolding)

First, it is claimed that coal is a dying energy source and its use is being phased out. Not so. According to the BP Review, over the decade to the end of 2014, coal use grew by 968 million tonnes of oil equivalent. That is 4 times faster than renewables, 2.8 times faster than oil and 50 per cent faster than gas.

So, despite reports that coal is dying, and is being rapidly replaced by renewable methods of power generation, the actual data does not bear this out at all.

It also dispels that other myth of divestment, and how so called responsible entities are getting rid of the coal related stocks which make up their shareholding portfolios. True, some are doing that, but the overwhelming majority are not divesting at all. In fact, most are buying those stocks that are being divested by those other entities. You would think that if the rumours were true, the advice they would be given would be to not purchase any new stock in coal related enterprises.

It also mentions that financing for coal mining rose to $66 Billion in 2014, a rise from $55 Billion the year before, and a 360% increase since 2005. That’ s $66 Billion in just one year.

The claim that renewables are replacing coal fired power is also patently false as well. The article says that had the World relied on the power generated only from those two current renewables of choice, wind power and solar power, those two would have generated only 2.4% of the World’s power, enough to keep the power and lights on for only 9 days in the year.

It is projected that China alone will add 450GW of new Nameplate for coal fired power between now and 2040. That’s the equivalent of 225 large scale coal fired power plants of 2000MW in size. Keep in mind this is just additional new plants over and above what they have already, because China has been furiously constructing new large scale coal fired power plants for the last ten to fifteen years, and by 2040, all of these plants already constructed now will still be in operation. Also keep in mind the average life span for a large scale coal fired plant is 50 years, so those plants coming on line as far out as 2040, even if they stop constructing them at that time, well those plants will still be operating in 2090. That projected new construction total of 450GW is 40% larger than the current total for every coal fired power plant in the U.S. and that’s just projected NEW construction over and above already existing plants.

President Obama loudly proclaimed that he had made a climate change deal with China, where China hoped it might reach its peak CO2 emissions by 2030. It seems that perhaps China might have other ideas if this construction rate proves true.

In the electrical power generation sector, you only need to take notice of just how much money is involved to come to a swift realisation that coal fired power indeed has a long future. If those Companies involved were concerned that coal is dying, they would not be investing literally hundreds of billions of dollars making equipment which can only be used to support coal fired power generation.

In the already Developed World, coal fired power generation may actually seem to be dying out, because no Developed Country is willing to construct any new technology coal fired power plants. However, you only need to look at Countries considered to be still in that Development phase to find that they have no such qualms at all when it comes to constructing those new technology coal fired plants. China would have to be the biggest Country which is literally powering ahead with construction of those new coal fired plants, and have been constructing them over the last ten years or so, at around the rate of one new large scale plant coming on stream every seven to ten days. Those new coal fired plants are the USC (UltraSuperCritical) plants. These new technology plants use around 15% less coal for an equivalent size plant using the older technology from the 1970′ and 1980’s, when construction of coal fired plants literally dried up in the Developed World.

The image below shows one unit of one of those Chinese USC coal fired power plants.

Shanghai Electric GW Class USC Turbine Generator Unit

USC 1000MW unit at Shanghai Waigaoqiao III Power Plant

Construction of those new plants is not limited solely to China. India is also constructing them as well. They are going ahead in some Middle Eastern Countries, in Countries around the Asian region, in South Africa, and now also in Germany as well, a Developed Country going against the trend and building them as well. The Germans have actually adapted the USC technology to burn Lignite (brown coal) which had traditionally had larger emissions than those black coal fed plants, and the Germans are achieving emissions at the same level as those black coal fed plants.

Not only is construction of these new plants under way, but in development and nearing construction now are Advanced USC plants. While those USC plants have a 15% lower emissions rate than those older tech plants, these Advanced USC plants have the capability for an even further reduction in CO2 emissions, taking them up to 20% less emissions when compared with those older technology coal fired plants. These new plants operate at a higher temperature, and greater efficiency all round. Work on these plants is proceeding in many Countries, and even within the U.S. where coal is supposedly dying.

Just one such U.S. company working on the materials for these plants is shown at this link. (pdf document of 13 pages)

Besides this, there are other major Companies working on equipment which can only be used for these new plants, and these are not small Companies, but the Majors, the Babcock and Wilcox Company, Siemens, Alstom, GE, and others. The equipment ranges from the furnaces, the boilers, the driving turbines, the generators, and everything else associated with large scale electrical power generation. The things these Companies are manufacturing can only be used for large scale coal fired power generation.

With that in mind, here we are talking literally hundreds of billions of dollars in investment in manufacturing this equipment. If coal was supposedly dying, these Companies would be getting out of this as soon as possible.

While ever there is a demand for huge amounts of electricity, available as a constant and regular supply, continuously on tap, there will always be a demand for large scale coal fired power plants. Those currently favoured Renewables, wind and solar, just cannot supply this level of power, are more expensive, have less than half the life span, and deliver their power on a sporadic basis only, and require the backup of plants which can deliver power when it is needed.

Coal is most definitely not dying, and if the real truth is to be told, it is most probably flourishing as a new age of coal fired power is ramping up, probably quietly at first, but once the truth is out there, then it can come into its own again.

Coal has a very long future.

Anton Lang uses the screen name of TonyfromOz, and he writes at this site, PA Pundits International on topics related to electrical power generation, from all sources, concentrating mainly on Renewable Power, and how the two most favoured methods of renewable power generation, Wind Power and all versions of Solar Power, fail comprehensively to deliver levels of power required to replace traditional power generation. His Bio is at this link.