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IEA coal-fired trends holding true: Collapse in developed world and growth in Asia

Global coal-fired electricity generation is going to fall more than ever over the next five years, but that drop is balanced by sustained growth in Asia, according to latest analysis by the International Energy Agency.

Coal-fired electricity generation is expected to decline nearly 3 percent–or more than 250 TWh–led by double-digit decreases in Europe and the United States. The IEA “Coal 2019” report contains forecasts through 2024.

Yet electricity generated from coal-fired power plants will still remain the single largest source worldwide, at 35 percent of the global mix in five years.

Developing nations like India, Vietnam and Indonesia are relying on coal-fired power to fuel economic growth. These regions are also considering renewables and gas-fired power, but each path has its own roadblocks.

“Wind and solar PV are growing rapidly in many parts of the world. With investment in new plants drying up, coal power capacity outside Asia is clearly declining and will continue to do so in the coming years,” said Keisuke Sadamori, the IEA’s Director of Energy Markets and Security, who is launching the report in Johannesburg alongside Gwede Mantashe, South Africa’s Minister of Mineral and Energy Resources. “But this is not the end of coal, since demand continues to expand in Asia,”

Indeed, the region’s share of global coal power generation has grown from barely 20 percent in 1990 to 80 percent this year, according to Sadamori’s comments.

Pakistan, for instance, traditionally has burned gas and oil for power generation, but is increasingly adding coal-fired capacity, according to the IEA. The nation has commissioned 5 GW since 2017 and is expected to add another 5 GW in the next few years.

Bangladesh also is expected to move beyond natural gas with 10 GW of coal-fired capacity in the proverbial pipeline.

“The low coal power generation in India this year was due to unusually low growth in electricity demand and exceptionally high hydropower output,” Sadamori said. “It is not at all clear that it will be repeated.”

Meanwhile, half of the world’s coal is produced and consumed in China, according to the IEA.

The forecast, however did note that trends are subject to change. Coal-fired power could place greater public opposition as it has in the developed world.

It all remains to be seen.