Coal due to make a global comeback

The era of coal consumption is far from over and by 2017 it will come close to surpassing oil as the world's top energy source, according to a report published today.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has released figures set out in its annual Medium-Term Coal Market Report (MCMR) which reveal that global coal consumption by 2017 will stand at 4.32 billion tonnes of oil equivalent (btoe), versus around 4.40 btoe for oil.

According to the IEA, the only region in the world that will not see an increase in coal demand is the US where the extraction of unconventional gas is pushing out coal.

IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven said: “Thanks to abundant supplies and insatiable demand for power from emerging markets, coal met nearly half of the rise in global energy demand during the first decade of the 21st Century.”

“This report sees that trend continuing. In fact, the world will burn around 1.2 billion more tonnes of coal per year by 2017 compared to today – equivalent to the current coal consumption of Russia and the United States combined.

“Coal’s share of the global energy mix continues to grow each year, and if no changes are made to current policies, coal will catch oil within a decade.”

The report says China will surpass the rest of the world in coal demand during the outlook period, while India will become the largest seaborne coal importer and second-largest consumer, surpassing the United States.

Without a high carbon price, only fierce competition from low-priced gas can effectively reduce coal demand, the report warns.

Hoeven suggested that only by hydraulic fracturing or fracking, which has caused environmental concerns, can the spectre of coal be abolished.

“Europe, China and other regions should take note,” she said.

Hoeven recognised that the predictions were based on the view that carbon capture and storage (CCS) would not take off – a worry echoed by Carbon Trust chair James Smith this week.

“CCS technologies are not taking off as once expected, which means CO2 emissions will keep growing substantially. Without progress in CCS, and if other countries cannot replicate the US experience and reduce coal demand, coal faces the risk of a potential climate policy backlash,” Hoeven said.

Conor McGlone

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