A newly published report has found that the global pipeline for new coal-fired power plants halved in 2016, but the coal industry says the report is misleading in framing a ‘freefall’ scenario for the sector.

Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and CoalSwarm published the third edition of their annual report on the global coal power plant pipeline entitled Boom and Bust 2017: Tracking The Global Coal Plant Pipeline, and pointed to Chinese government regulation and lack of finance in India as major reasons for the sector’s lack of build.
Coal power plant
The coal industry argues the fuel will remain essential to economic growth in Asia for decades to come. The head of World Coal, Benjamin Sporton said that the report failed to understand a new dynamic in how coal power is utilised.

“Contrary to the picture being portrayed by certain quarters, China’s climate pledge suggests that coal will continue to be central to its energy solutions, albeit through efficiencies including the use of new coal technologies.

“In India’s case, it’s simply not true that renewables are displacing coal. The International Energy Agency has said that India’s coal demand will see the biggest growth over next five years with an annual average growth rate of 5% by 2021.

“Developing energy infrastructure is complex particularly for huge projects like a large coal station. Realistically until a project breaks ground it should not come as huge surprise if plans do not go ahead. Look no further than the woes of the nuclear infrastructure in the UK.”

“China has been a remarkable example of the role that affordable coal can play in improving access to energy and supporting economic development – the country has achieved universal energy access so has no need for a new coal-station being built every week.”

“For these countries, excluding coal from the energy mix is not an option; it is essential for economic growth and critical in securing energy access.”

The report maintains that China’s government has regulated to the detriment of the sector, with the equivalent of 600 coal-fired units being put on hold until at least 2020. The Indian go-slow was prompted, according to the authors, by the reluctance of banks to provide funds. Work at 13 locations is currently not going ahead.

However, there have also been significant retirements of coal plants in Europe and the US over the past two years, with roughly 120 large units being taken out of commission.

Coal power has also been impacted by a fear among investors of the sector suffering from stranded assets if aggressive regulation against it continues.

Mike Bostan, Public Affairs Manager at Euracoal, told Power Engineering International, that he was skeptical about the report’s findings.

“Almost all reports on coal coming from such NGOs invariably reach the same conclusions: coal is bad and coal will disappear.”

“Previous boom and bust reports similarly predicted the demise of coal.  These reports and others all end up being unreliable upon closer scrutiny.”

“Coal’s growth was, until 2013, higher than the other major energy sources. Today, growth has slowed as China’s developmental level reached something approaching the West. If competitive alternatives are found, then India and South East Asia may not depend as heavily on coal, but on current forecasts, coal will still be the preferred choice in many developing countries.”

“Rich, developed countries can afford a variety of more expensive alternatives:  natural gas, nuclear, new renewables and even traditional bioenergy.  Even then, we see coal playing an important stabilising role – both technically and economically.”