Global coal use appears to be falling, most notably over the last year in UK, USA, China, and to a lesser extent in Germany. In late December I blogged about the possibility that the world may already have passed ‘peak carbon emissions’, and that in 2015 there looked like being a slight fall, which might become the start of an increasing trend. Since December’s historic Paris climate agreement several countries have announced either the closure of more coal plants (as is the case in UK) or the abandonment of plans to build many more coal plants (as Vietnam has). Due to weakening demand the price for coal has fallen by 60% since 2011, leading to falling share prices and bankruptcies of many of the world’s biggest coal companies.
The ending of the Age of Coal will inevitably lead to the loss of many jobs. There is much that can be done to ease the social dimension of this energy transition with the right government help. However on balance the jobs gained in the rapidly expanding renewable and Cleantech sectors will probably be many more than those lost in the old and contracting fossil fuel sectors. For many poor countries where most of the population currently don’t have access to electricity the possibilities are very exciting as they have the opportunity to leapfrog the older industrialized countries.
Worldwide 1.2 billion people still don’t have access to electricity. Most of them live in rural sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Building centralized power stations of any kind and a grid to take the power to these rural areas looks increasingly foolish: much cheaper will be distributed solar plus battery storage. Small amounts of electricity can transform lives, increase literacy and improve healthcare. One of the UN sustainable development goals is to provide clean and affordable energy for all by 2030. Technologically this is easily achievable, and both cheaper and cleaner using solar rather than coal.
Declining coal Global http://energydesk.greenpeace.org/2015/11/09/2015-the-year-global-coal-consumption-fell-off-a-cliff/China http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jan/19/chinas-coal-burning-in-significant-decline-figures-show Vietnam http://www.mining.com/web/coal-dropped-from-vietnams-future-energy-plans/ USA http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/feb/04/us-electricity-industrys-use-of-coal-fell-to-historic-low-in-2015-as-plants-closed UK http://energydesk.greenpeace.org/2016/02/10/honey-i-shrunk-the-coal-capacity/