Coal is undergoing a renaissance in emerging and developed countries in Asia, buoyed by technical breakthroughs and looming questions about squaring development with energy security. Japan, India and China will try to blunt the air pollution effects from the use of coal which cause millions of premature deaths in India and China and tens of thousands in Japan. However the “low emissions” coal technology is still 30% worse than natural gas for CO2 emissions even though “low emissions” is improved over several decades old coal plants.
BTW- the economic and technological forces in the USA are causing an increase in natural gas power generation in the USA. Any political rhetoric or shutting down of the EPA may slow the decline of the US coal industry but coal power in the US will still decline. US coal mines will then ship more coal to Asia. For the full year of 2016 in the USA, coal made up 30.4% of total US power generation, which is the lowest annual total since EIA records started for the calculation in 1950. For comparison, coal made up 33.2% of US generation in 2015 and 49% of US generation in 2006. Gas plants produced 33.9% of US power in 2016, which was the highest total yet for the fuel, after contributing 32.7% of US power generation in 2015 and 20.1% in 2006.
US electricity generation was 4300 TWh in 2016. This is 40% less than China 5920TWh. India is at about 1400 TWh and Japan at 1000 TWh.
For Japan, coal has emerged as the best alternative to replacing its 54 nuclear reactors, which are deeply unpopular with the population and seen as symbols of devastation after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster six years ago. Mindful of the public mood, the government of Shinzo Abe has completely given up on the country’s dream of nuclear self-sufficiency, and pulled the plug in December on the $8.5 billion experimental reactor project at Monju. On February 1, the government pledged to decommission all reactors and replace them with 45 new coal-fired power plants equipped with the latest clean coal technology.
Japan is turning to coal power due to attempts to transition the country away from nuclear power. Officials promised to replace nuclear power with wind or solar, but this caused the price of electricity to rise by 20 percent. Japan’s government currently aims to restart at least 32 of the 54 reactors it shut down following the Fukushima disaster, and wants nuclear power to account for 20 percent of the nation’s total electricity generated by 2030.
Japan will use high energy, low emissions (HELE) technology that use high-quality black coal.
Japan plans to build ultra-super-critical plants in the 650 MW range. 45 new coal-fired power-generation units with total capacity of as much as 20,884 MW, would come online in the next decade or so. Japan had a total 90 coal-fired units at the end of March 2015, with total capacity of 40,695 MW. Coal power already made up 31 percent of Japan’s energy mix in 2015 but under the current plan, the fossil fuel will become the country’s primary power source by 2019.
Japan is the largest overseas market for Australian coal producers, taking more than a third of all exports.
In the wake of the Tsunami which caused the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011, Japan started importing more liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Australia. The move to more coal fired power was because coal was cheaper than LNG, and the energy security was priority for the government.
India’s current energy plan calls for reducing India’s carbon emissions by replacing aging thermal power plants with energy-efficient “supercritical” ones that will (much like their Japanese counterparts) maximize the energy produced from coal burned, while also curtailing CO2 emissions. This supercritical technology has already had tangible effects on the nation’s plan to cut pollution levels as the 51 units currently installed have saved 6 million tons of CO2 — the equivalent of taking 1,267,000 cars off the road for one year. A few Indian companies and entrepreneurs have been even more ambitious, pioneering local carbon-capture solutions that could keep even more emissions out of the air.
India needs to grow power but is has paused in building new coal plants because of a massively inefficient economic and planning system.
India has power plants with capacity to generate 300 GW. These are operating at 64% capacity because of inability of state distribution utilities to purchase electricity and sluggish economic growth. About a tenth of the total capacity is stranded due to lack of power purchase agreements while another 50 GW is under various stages of construction.
One third of the Indian population has no power.
If India grows at 7 to 9% GDP each year then they will need 3.5-5% more energy each year. If solar power can scale 10 to 30 times beyond what we see today and at costs of about half what we see today then maybe India will not build so much coal power to meet their development needs. If it comes to choice between development or using coal, clearly India will choose to use coal.
China recently announced the cancellation of over 100 coal plant projects. However, China still added 48GW of coal power plants in 2016 and will likely add a total of 150GW by 2020.
The cancellations were partially due to concerns about air pollution, but also mainly about China’s planners finally admitting that they would not be able to increase GDP growth to justify the new coal power.
China’s annual construction level is higher than Japan’s 15 year energy plan. China used just short of 6000 TWh of power in 2016. China had 5920 TWh of power generation in 2016.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.