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Coal Minus: Decline in global use of coal power in first-half of 2020

Updated: Sep 9, 2020

A report just published shows that for the first time on record, the global fleet of coal-powered stations fell during the first half of 2020. Global Energy Monitor, the American non-governmental organisation which tracks worldwide fossil fuel infrastructure, puts the reduction down to:

  • scheduled plant closures across Europe due to pollution regulations;

  • a drop in demand for power and a suspension of new plant openings in India caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report does show plant openings still rising in China. China is already responsible for 50% of global coal capacity and their share of newly proposed capacity is almost 90% of the world’s total.

However, the appetite for coal-generated power in China leaves the country one of the few in that position in the world as production has peaked in most other countries. India has “radically reduced” the amount of coal it plans to produce as the country begins to embrace solar and wind power.

In the first six months of the year, 18.3 gigawatts (GW) of coal power started operating globally while 21.2GW was retired. Over the previous 20 years, the global coal fleet had increased by an average of 25GW every six months.

Across the EU plus UK, 8.3GW of capacity was decommissioned. There is even an interesting anomaly with a plant in Germany opening in May four months after the country released a plan to entirely phase out coal by 2038. In the UK, a period of 68 days without any coal power feeding the National Grid was the longest since before the Industrial Revolution.

In the US, despite Donald Trump being a loud advocate of the coal mining industry, the shift towards clean energy was also noticeable with a retirement of 5.4GW of capacity.

Despite all these encouraging trends, a report by Climate Analytics in 2019 estimated that coal power generation needs to be phased out before 2040 to keep the world in sight of meeting the Paris Agreement long-term goal on limiting the increase in global temperatures.


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