Coal demand is likely to remain relatively stable in the years ahead, according to BCG’s (Boston Consulting Groups) Global Energy Scenario Model. The main reason: the unquenchable thirst for energy in numerous Asian developing countries, such as India and Indonesia.
Several developments could trigger a slowdown in coal demand growth—or even a contraction. These include
* slower than projected global GDP growth
* an exceptionally fast uptake in renewable power—even faster than the rapid pace currently projected—combined with disruptive advances in renewable energy storage.
* Comprehensive, coordinated global regulatory action to limit greenhouse gas emissions—difficult and complex, but not impossible—could also reverse the coal trajectory.
Today, coal accounts for roughly one-third of global energy production.
Coal was used for 679 TWh in Europe in 2017. Coal produces about 4 TWh per year per gigawatt.
Coal is cheap because it is burnable dirt
It is affordable, accessible, and easily stored and transported, making it well suited to meeting the energy needs of industrializing economies. It’s no surprise, then, that about 76% of global coal demand comes from China and other developing countries, which continue to add coal-fired power capacity. In 2016 alone, 70 gigawatts of new coal capacity was added globally—a net increase of 57 gigawatts, after accounting for plants taken out of use. That’s nearly 40% of the total coal-fired power plant capacity in Europe today, or the equivalent of roughly 800 megawatts of new capacity every four days.
Even taking cancellations into account, however, some 220 gigawatts of new coal-fired power generation is under construction, primarily in Asia. Within Asia, demand growth is shifting from China, where coal consumption will plateau in the 2020s, to other countries. In India, roughly 50 gigawatts of new coal-fired power generation capacity is under construction—which represents about 20% of the country’s current coal-fired capacity. Meanwhile, Indonesia, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines are constructing coal-fired plants.
A couple of developments could dampen growth in the demand for coal. One is the faster than expected substitution of gas for coal in the power industry. However, even under a scenario in which shale gas reserves in China and Argentina are tapped, coal demand would still increase by roughly 0.3% annually between now and 2040. Another possible development is rapid gains in energy efficiency in buildings and appliances, which would limit coal demand growth to 0.2% annually through 2040.
Solar and wind power are now competitive with coal when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. However, the technology for storing that power is not cheap enough to make renewables competitive with coal 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
To evaluate massive global regulation in their model, they assume that OECD countries and China stop building new coal power plants as of today (2018) and retire all plants older than 40 years by 2020 and all plants older than 35 by 2030. They also assume that the rest of the world stops building new plants by 2025 and retires all plants older than 40 by 2030. In this scenario, coal demand would decline 14% from 2018 to 2040.
They estimate the full net-present-value cost of substituting coal-fired power with renewables and gas in China to be $1.3 trillion—or 0.55% of China’s cumulative GDP through 2030—including about $750 billion in stranded assets.
Growing Coal Demand in Developing Countries. Amid energy-intensive economic growth, coal remains a primary power source in most developing markets. Even after multiple project cancellations in countries such as India, roughly 100 gigawatts in coal-fired generation capacity is under construction. The bulk of the capacity is being constructed in India, Indonesia, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and South Africa. And even more is on the drawing board.
India, for example, has taken decisive steps to support renewable energy development, including eliminating both import duties on critical solar parts and interstate transmission charges on the export of solar power. The government’s goal: to reach 175 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2022, up from 60 gigawatts currently. But that will represent just one-third of the country’s total power generation capacity—and coal is still projected to account for more than 50% of that capacity.