According to the latest coal predictions from the International Energy Agency, global coal demand growth will falter in the next 5 years as the appetite for it wanes and different energy sources increase in popularity.
The share of coal in the power generation mix will drop to 36% by 2021, down from 41% in 2014, the IEA said in the latest Medium-Term Coal Market Report, driven by lower demand from China and the United States, along with fast growth of renewables and strong focus on energy efficiency.
But in a sign of coal’s paradoxical position, the world is still highly dependent on coal. While coal demand dropped in 2015 for the first time this century, the IEA forecasts that demand will not reach 2014 levels again until 2021. However such a path would depend greatly on the trajectory of China’s demand, which accounts for 50% of global coal demand – and almost half of coal production – and more than any other country influences global coal prices.
The new report highlights the continuation of a major geographic shift in the global coal market towards Asia. In 2000, about half of coal demand was in Europe and North America, while Asia accounted for less than half. By 2015, Asia accounted for almost three-quarters of coal demand, while coal consumption in Europe and North America had declined sharply below one quarter. This shift will accelerate in the next years, according to the IEA.
Because it is relatively affordable and widely available, coal remains the world’s number one fuel for generating electricity, producing steel and making cement. It provides almost 30% of the world’s primary energy, declining to 27% by 2021. However it is also responsible for 45% of all energy-related carbon emissions and is a significant contributor to other types of pollution.
“Because of the implications for air quality and carbon emissions, coal has come under fire in recent years, but it is too early to say that this is the end for coal,” said Keisuke Sadamori, the director of the IEA’s energy markets and security directorate, who launched the report in Beijing, China.
“Coal demand is moving to Asia, where emerging economies with growing populations are seeking affordable and secure energy sources to power their economies. This is the contradiction of coal – while it can provide essential new power generation, it can also lock-in large amounts of carbon emissions for decades to come.”
The IEA’s report acknowledges China’s continued dominance in global coal markets. Coal-fired power generation in China dropped in 2015 due to sluggish power demand and a diversification policy that led to the development of new renewable and nuclear power generation capacity. The IEA forecast for Chinese coal demand shows a very slow decline, with chemicals being the only sector in which coal demand will grow, reaching 2,816 Mtce by 2021, around 100 Mtce less than the 2013 peak.
In the United States, coal consumption dropped by 15% in 2015, precipitated by competition from cheap natural gas, cheaper renewable power – notably wind – and regulations to reduce air pollutants that led to coal plant retirements. This was the largest annual decline ever, reaching levels not seen in more than three decades. Another substantial decline is expected in 2016. Looking ahead, the IEA forecasts a 1.6% per year decline, much slower than 6.2% decline over the past five years, as higher gas prices result in less coal-to-gas switching.
The brightest sign for coal was a recent unexpected boost in prices that provided relief to the industry. After a sustained four-year long decline, coal prices rebounded in 2016, mostly because of policy changes in China to cut capacity and curb oversupply. This was another example of the strong influence of macroeconomic developments and policies in China in shaping the global coal market.
The report also points out that despite the Paris Agreement there is no major impetus to promote the development of carbon capture and storage technology.
Are the UK Governments Plans for the Energy Sector Smart?
The revolution in the energy sector marches on, wind turbines and solar panels are harnessing more renewable energy than ever before – so where is it all leading?
The UK government have recently announced plans to modernise the way we produce, store and use electricity. And, if realised, the plans could be just the thing to bring the energy sector in line with 21st century technology and ideologies.
Central to the plans is an initiative that will see smart meters installed in homes and businesses the length and breadth of the country – and their aim? To create an environment where electricity can be managed more efficiently.
The news has prompted some speculation about how energy suppliers will react and many are predicting a price war. This could benefit consumers of electricity and investors, many of whom may be looking to make a profit by trading energy company shares online using platforms such as Oanda – but the potential for good news doesn’t end there.
Introducing New Technology
The plan, titled Smart Systems and Flexibility is being rolled out in the hope that it will have a positive impact in three core areas.
- To offer consumers greater control by making smart meters available for all homes and businesses by 2020. Energy users will be able to monitor, control and record the amount of energy they use.
- Incentivise energy suppliers to change the manner in which they buy electricity, to offer more smart tariffs and more off-peak periods for energy consumption.
- Introduce new standards for electrical appliances – it is hoped that the new wave of appliances will recognise when electricity is at its cheapest and at its most expensive and respond accordingly.
How the Plans Will Affect Solar Energy
Around 7 million houses in the UK have solar panels and the government say that their plan will benefit them as they will be able to store electricity on batteries. The stored energy can then be used by the household and excess energy can be exported to the national grid – in this instance lower tariffs or even payment for the excess energy will bring down annual costs significantly.
The rate of return on energy exported to the national grid is currently between 6% and 10%, but there are many variables to take into account, such as, the cost of battery storage and light levels. Still, those with state-of-the-art solar electricity systems could end up with an annual profit after selling their excess energy.
The Internet of Things
Much of what the plans set out to achieve are linked to the now ubiquitous “internet of things” – where, for example, appliances and heating systems are connected to the internet in order to make them function more smartly.
Companies like Hive have already made great inroads into this type of technology, but the road that the government plans are heading down, will, potentially, go much further -blockchain technology looms and has already proved to be a game changer in the world of currency.
It has already been suggested that the peer to peer selling of energy and exporting it to the national grid may eventually be done using blockchain technology.
“The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.”
Don and Alex Tapscott, Blockchain Revolution (2016)
The upshot of the government’s plans for the revolution of the energy sector, is that technology will play an indelible role in making it more efficient, more flexible and ultimately more sustainable.
4 Case Studies on the Benefits of Solar Energy
Demand for solar energy is growing at a surprising rate. New figures from SolarPower Europe show that solar energy production has risen 50% since the summer of 2016.
However, many people are still skeptical of the benefits of solar energy.Does it actually make a significant reduction in our carbon footprint? Is it actually cost-effective for the company over the long-run?
A number of case studies have been conducted, which indicate solar energy can be enormously beneficial. Here are some of the most compelling studies on the subject.
1. Boulder Nissan
When you think of companies that leverage solar power, car dealerships probably aren’t the first ones that come to mind. However, Boulder Nissan is highly committed to promoting green energy. They worked with Independent Power Systems to setup a number of solar cells. Here were the results:
- Boulder Nissan has reduced coal generated electricity by 65%.
- They are on track to run on 100% renewable energy within the next 13 years.
- Boulder Nissan reduced CO2 emissions by 416,000 lbs. within the first year after installing their solar panels.
This is one of the most impressive solar energy case studies a small business has published in recent years. It shows that even small companies in rural communities can make a major difference by adapting solar energy.
2. Valley Electric Association
In 2015, the Valley Electric Association (VEA) created an 80-acre solar garden. Before retiring from the legislature, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid praised the new project as a way to make the state more energy dependent and reduce our carbon footprint.
“This facility will provide its customers with the opportunity to purchase 100 percent of their electricity from clean energy produced in Nevada,” Reid told reporters with the Pahrump Valley Times. “That’s a step forward for the Silver State, but it also proves that utilities can work with customers to provide clean renewable energy that they demand.”
The solar energy that VEA produced was drastically higher than anyone would have predicted. SolarWorld estimates that the solar garden created 32,680,000 kwh every year, which was enough to power nearly 4,000 homes.
This was a major undertaking for a purple state, which may inspire their peers throughout the Midwest to develop solar gardens of their own. It will reduce dependency on the electric grid, which is a problem for many remote states in the central part of the country.
3. Las Vegas Casinos
A number of Las Vegas casinos have started investing in solar panels over the last couple of years. The Guardian reports that many of these casinos have cut costs considerably. Some of them are even selling the energy back to the grid.
“It’s no accident that we put the array on top of a conference center. This is good business for us,” Cindy Ortega, chief sustainability officer at MGM Resorts told Guardian reporters. “We are looking at leaving the power system, and one of the reasons for that is we can procure more renewable energy on the open market.”
There have been many benefits for casinos using solar energy. They are some of the most energy-intensive institutions in the world, so this has helped them become much more cost-effective. It also helps minimize disruptions to their customers learning online keno strategies in the event of any problems with the electric grid.
4. Boston College
Boston College has been committed to many green initiatives over the years. A group of researchers experimented with solar cells on different parts of the campus to see where they could produce the most electricity. They discovered that the best locationwas at St. Clement’sHall. The solar cells there dramatically. It would also reduce CO2 emissions by 521,702 lbs. a year and be enough to save 10,869 trees.
Boston College is exploring new ways to expand their usage of solar cells. They may be able to invest in more effective solar panels that can generate far more solar energy.
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