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Matt Smith

Matt Smith

Taking a voyage across the world of energy with ClipperData’s Director of Commodity Research. Follow on Twitter @ClipperData, @mattvsmith01

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Reports of Coal’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

I have pilfered from him before, and I will no doubt pilfer again. For Mark Twain is an excellent source of inspiration. Apparently, he said something along the lines of  ’reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated‘ in relation to a misinformed newspaper article about one of his relatives. Regardless, it has been ringing in my ears recently as I have been reading about coal. For despite the anthracitical fuel being the red-headed stepchild of the energy complex, talk of its demise would appear misplaced. I present my case henceforth.

1) Coal has historically been, and is currently, the leading fuel in the US power generation mix. It is also expected to play a leading role for many years to come:

US Electricity Generation

2) In fact, the Department of Energy predicts that energy-related CO2 emissions have risen in 2013 for the first time in three years…likely due to higher coal use.

3) Coal consumption is expected to drop in 2016 due to MATS (Mercury and Air Toxics Standards) – new federal limits on mercury emissions  - spurring on the retirement of older coal plants which don’t have emission-control equipment. After 2016, however, coal-fired electricity generation is expected to increase slowly over the next 10 years as the remaining coal-fired capacity is used more intensively.

Related article: Two Bullish Missed Targets in Coal ... and One Place that will Benefit

4) In terms of output, although the US has seen a drop-off in coal production for the Appalachian region, the Interior region has grown, while the Western region has also shown a rising trend until recently. The Department of Energy expects coal production to remain fairly constant over the coming decades:

Coal Production in the US

5) Although there may be a lesser need for output growth in coal to meet US demand, this surplus coal is finding its way abroad, boosting US exports to a record level in 2012 at 114.2 million tons.

US Coal Exports

6) A white paper released by the EIA last week highlights that more than half of U.S. coal exports are shipped to customers in Europe, while much of the remainder stays within the Americas. Demand is strong and diverse.

7) German utilities in 2014 are expected to add the most coal-fired capacity in more than a decade, as the country switches its focus away from expensive natural gas, to solar, wind….and cheap coal.

Related article: Coal Makes a 2014 Comeback

8) Although global consumption growth of coal use is set to slow in the next five years (according to the IEA), it will still expand 2.3% annually through 2018. India is projected to rival China as the top importer of coal in the next five years, while Southeast Asia undergoes a power boom, replacing gas with coal as the dominant fuel as the region doubles its energy consumption.

9) China, however, remains the largest global consumer of coal (accounting for over 50%). It is expected to account for two-thirds of coal demand growth this decade, with global consumption expected to increase by 25% by 2020, as half of China’s power generation capacity betwixt now and the end of the decade will be coal-fired. All this means that coal will become the top global fuel by 2020.

10) In conclusion, whether you like it or not, coal is set to be a key element of the future energy mix – in the US or otherwise. The Department of Energy projects US coal consumption to increase by 8% from 2012 to 2040 to 18.7 quadrillion Btus.

That’s 18, 700,000,000,000,000 Btus:

US Energy Consumption by Fuel

By. Matt Smith




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