Coal Collapsing Faster Under Trump Despite His Promises

More coal plants are now projected to retire more quickly than experts thought a year ago, according to energy-industry analysts, despite Trump's promises. It seems that coal has simply lost its competitiveness against natural gas and increasingly cheaper solar and wind. IHS Markit’s Max Cohen, for example, sees 100 GW of coal capacity retired over the next decade. Navigant is more cautions, expecting 73 GW of coal capacity to be retired in the period. MAKE Consulting is in the middle, forecasting the retirement of 80-90 GW of coal capacity in the coming decade.  Wind, solar and natural gas are expected to divide up the spoils. Is coal really going to retire? 
 

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Coal actually supplies closer to 40% of our power. The reason it's diminishing is because natural gas is so cheap now thanks to fracking, which has a  list of environmental issues. Natural gas is terrible. Coal is worse. Pick your poison.

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Wind turbines and solar panels are getting more efficient, but not that fast. It is more like a couple percent per year improvement. They are getting cheaper at a faster rate, and the increased efficiency contributes, but so do other factors.

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Coal supplies a third of all energy used worldwide  as well as playing a crucial role in industries such as iron and steel. Despite legitimate concerns about air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, coal use will continue to be significant in the future. Therefore greater efforts are needed by government and industry to embrace less polluting and more efficient technologies to ensure that coal becomes a much cleaner source of energy in the decades to come.

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The article discusses plants in the United States, not in the developing world. The U.S. is  fortunate enough to have the opportunity to dictate the policy which guides the way they get their power. If we invest in clean energy we will be on better footing to aid burgeoning economies around the globe. Many developing countries are choosing to build dirty energy to provide their citizens with the quality of life benefits that come with access to reliable energy. But just as many are looking to avoid the growing pains associated with unregulated air pollution caused by cheap energy.

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The article discusses plants in the United States but the decline of coal is a worldwide phenomenon. In the UK, the electricity provided by coal dropped from 45 per cent of overall generation in 2012 to just 2 per cent in 2017.  In India, the economic pressure and retreat from coal financing by private capital are hailed as reasons that about 16 GW of India's operating coal plants currently lack a power purchase agreement. At 17 sites, the coal plant construction is frozen primarily due to a lack of financing. The new coal power plants are not financially competitive with new renewables in India.

https://energy.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/coal/coal-power-projects-worldwide-including-india-see-steep-drop/63423360

In China, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), has issued capacity reduction targets for coal : in 2018 the coal capacity is to be cut by 150 million metric tons, and coal-fired power generation by 4 gigawatts.

https://www.caixinglobal.com/2018-04-23/quick-take-china-sets-2018-targets-for-cutting-coal-steel-capacities-101238036.html

The chinese government said it will shut coal-fired power plants with capacity of less than 300,000 kilowatts that fail to meet emission standards in 2018.

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On 5/10/2018 at 4:21 PM, LAOIL said:

...It seems that coal has simply lost its competitiveness against natural gas and increasingly cheaper solar and wind...
 

That's how it appears at the moment.  Oil-fired electric power plants were also big for a time thanks to cheap oil, but we see where that went.  Natural gas may-or-may-not remain cheap, meaning coal may-or-may-not compete with it in the future. 

As for renewables, they have artificial supports and unknown risks:

1) Direct subsidies

2) Renewable mandates forcing utilities to buy them at premium prices

3) They're still a small percentage of generation.  We could encounter black swan events or unforeseen limitations as their share grows

4) Their cost calculations assume someone else handles grid stability.  This will eventually be passed on to the customers, but for the moment, they're blind to it. 

5) Renewable-heavy markets often support renewables out of ideology and blind optimism.  That could wane - esp. if utility rates increase, unknown unknowns lead to grid instability, or enough people tire of having turbines in their back yards. 

6)  Renewables are still being deployed in the most favorable locations.  E.g. Hawaii, the Middle East, markets with exceedingly high electricity prices, etc. 

That said, it's true that some markets can do well with renewables.  Solar is obviously cheaper in Hawaii and oil producing Middle Eastern states with no alternatives.  The question is whether the current rapid expansion will continue or if renewables will settle into a stable market share. 

Also consider that the US coal plant fleet is incredibly old.  Many of these retiring plants are past their expected life, made with obsolete technology, and too small to be economical.  Utilities need to retire these plants anyway, so they look at the options available and see that natural gas is the current winner.  But by how much does natural gas beat a modern coal plant?  Probably not much.  If natural gas prices increase, utilities will go right back to building large, efficient coal plants with excellent emission controls. 

We'll see what happens, but a renewable victory is far from assured. 

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