While gas prices are soaring, coal is burning

The king is dead, long live the king, in a way. The current energy price crisis has given new impetus to the “King Coal” (“King Coal”), his old nickname. Despite its status as the most polluting energy, this fossil fuel is burning again. “Global coal consumption is increasing sharply”, notes the International Energy Agency, in its report, World Energy Outlook, published October 13. All energies combined, this coal revival led to the “Second largest annual increase” carbon dioxide emissions (in absolute terms); which cause global warming.

The consumption of so-called thermal coal, intended for electricity production, has now reached levels higher than those before the Covid-19: 6,528 million tonnes for the current year, unheard of since 2014, according to data from the British company CRU Group. China alone accounts for more than half of that total. However, due to the development of renewable energies, the share of coal continues to decrease in the electricity mix: it still represents 35% worldwide… and 60% in China.

“Complete contradiction”

“The demand for coal is increasing in both developing and developed countries », Specifies the consulting firm Capgemini in its own panorama, also published this month. For the members of the G20, the twenty richest countries on the planet, this demand had declined by 4% in 2020. But it should “rebound” to + 5% in 2021. Above, therefore, figures for 2019, underline the World Energy Markets Observatory.

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In a general context of strong post-Covid economic recovery, coal owes its return in particular to soaring gas prices, another fossil fuel, but all the same less polluting. In Europe, they are increasing in particular due to low stocks and a dependence on the volumes delivered by Russia and Norway. The more these prices increase, the more attractive those of coal appear to meet the demand of individuals and manufacturers.

This autumn, “The marginal price of a coal-fired power station is today lower than that of a gas-fired one”, notes Colette Lewiner, specialist in energy issues for Capgemini, and also administrator of the energy company EDF. Gold “The supply-demand balance requires, besides the production of electricity from intermittent renewables, a programmable production, with nuclear, gas or coal”.

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