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China Syndrome? U.S. reductions in coal use are offset by large increases in Asia

China’s demand increased 4.6% in 2022, which amounted to 200 million tons. India increased its consumption by 9%, or 97 million tons.

Published: December 17, 2023 11:08pm

Efforts to dramatically reduce coal use in America are simply being offset by an energy-hungry Asia, and confounding the goals of climate change activists.

Global coal demand actually reached a record high in 2022, rising 4% to 8.4 billion tons, according to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) annual report released Friday.

The IEA report attributes much of that increase to developing countries in Asia: China’s demand increased 4.6% in 2022, which amounted to 200 million tons while India increased its consumption by 9%, or 97 million tons.

Indonesia, which is trying to corner the global market on energy-intensive nickel smelting, increased its coal use by 49 million tons, a 32% increase.

Despite its commitment to driving down carbon dioxide emissions, Europe increased its coal use by 4.3%, which the IEA report notes was less than was expected.

“Despite subdued hydropower and nuclear electricity generation in some European countries, a weak economy and mild winter in Europe restrained the impact of natural gas price spikes, which encouraged some switching to coal,” the report said.

In the United States, coal use peaked in 2007. In 2022, U.S. coal demand fell by 8%. This 39 million ton decrease was a greater drop than any other market.

The report predicts that coal demand will fall in 2023 in almost all advanced economies. The U.S. and European Union will see the biggest drops, according to the report. Consumption will also fall in Korea, Japan, Canada and Australia.

However, the IEA notes that all of these decreases will be “more than offset” on a global level by increases in China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines. Together, the Asian countries represent 70% of global coal demand.

Luke Bolar, chief external affairs officer for ClearPath, a conservative cclean energy advocate, told Just The News that, for developing countries, coal is attractive.

“They’re looking for what’s available, what’s reliable and what’s affordable. A lot of these countries are rapidly developing and therefore not somewhere like the United States,” Bolar said.

ClearPath is a nonprofit that promotes the development and advancement of innovations to remove global energy emissions.

ClearPath, Bolar said, supports a diverse portfolio of energy, which includes renewable and fossil fuel sources. He said that certain technologies work better in certain geographic areas, so, for example, it’s easier to move natural gas in pipelines than in other areas.

“There’s a real need for a diverse grid, and it needs to be affordable,” Bolar said.

ClearPath, he said, encourages technological innovations that will help produce energy with less carbon dioxide emissions. That technology can then be exported to developing countries that are using higher-emission fuel sources. If it’s reliable and affordable, Bolar said, they will choose these cleaner sources.

The IEA report predicts that China’s coal consumption will fall in 2024 and plateau through 2026. Hydroelectric sources, according to the report, will increase along with wind and solar resources. The IEA notes that due to China’s growing economy, the projections of its energy mix are filled with uncertainty.

The IEA’s record on accurate predictions of future coal trends isn’t good, and it failed to foresee the Chinese coal explosion that followed the country’s inclusion in the World Trade Organization in 2001.

According to the Energy Policy Research Foundation, since the signing of the 2015 international Paris Agreement, China and India have added a net increase of coal-fired generation capacity of 279 gigawatts. The U.S. has had a net decrease of 95.6 gigawatts. Globally, there was a net increase of nearly 200 gigawatts of coal-fired generation capacity in that time.

Emily Arthun, executive director of the American Coal Council, told Just The News that coal plays an important role in keeping energy affordable, even here in the U.S. Michigan, she pointed out, set targets this month to have all its electricity produced without carbon dioxide emissions by 2040. In November, the Michigan Public Service Commission approved rate increases that will increase residential energy bills by 6%.

The IEA report shows that coal mine production in the U.S. dropped, but not as steep as the drop in demand due to higher exports and power plants building up their stocks of coal.

Arthun said that America’s coal, especially in Wyoming coal mines, which supply over 40% of U.S. demand, is lower in sulfur and often cleaner than coal from other countries. It’s also produced under stricter environmental and labor regulations.

“When you look at American coal, it’s produced with standards that exceed those of other countries,” she said.

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