We have all heard about the doom and gloom that the U.S. coal sector is facing – a double-whammy of abundant supplies of cheap shale gas coupled with the regulatory noose that the Environmental Protection Agency is continuously tightening around the industry. Together these two forces are undermining the economics of coal.
Although the projections for the U.S. coal industry seem to get worse by the month, such a trend is not really news. But what is news is the emerging realization that globally the outlook is not much better. Coal executives used to insist that while the U.S. is turning its back on one of the few cheap sources of base load power, growth in global demand – particularly from China and India – was nearly insatiable.
Just this past December the International Energy Agency predicted robust demand for coal over the next five years. “We have heard many pledges and policies aimed at mitigating climate change, but over the next five years they will mostly fail to arrest the growth in coal demand,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in a December 2014 statement on the release of a major coal report. In that report – released a mere four months ago – the IEA predicted that China would fail in its attempts to reach “peak coal” before the end of the decade.
But data that only emerged a few weeks later proved the IEA’s prediction to be way off base. China actually reduced its coal…