Coal, considered to be the single largest source of global carbon emissions, is back in demand amidst the current energy crisis and soaring fossil fuel prices.
With an unprecedented rise in global economic uncertainties, several countries including Germany, the European Union’s (EU) largest economy have decided to resort to coal based power generation. Incidentally, India had come under the scanner last year after the conclusion of the COP 26 (Conference of Paris) for altering the wording of the final deal to “phase down” instead of “phase out” coal.
In less than a year, the developed countries are now scrambling to resume coal based energy generation.
A report by the Observer Research Foundation noted that energy supply disruptions in early 2022 took liquefied natural gas (LNG) prices even higher, leaving coal as the only option for dispatchable and affordable power even in the tough markets of Western Europe and North America that have explicit policies to phase out coal.
Germany, one of the worst impacted by the energy crisis, has started to move back to coal by restarting the idle coal plants. The country had earlier shut down most of its coal based power plants as it spearheaded the transition towards green energy and the climate change cause. Germany had announced phasing out all coal based electricity generation by 2038. But it is now reversing its stand as it faces one of the worst crises in decades.
Other European countries such as Austria, Poland, the Netherlands and Greece have also started restarting coal plants.
China has the largest number of operational coal power plants. India ranks second. Germany, the largest economy in the EU has 63, according to data collation portal Statista.
The International Energy Agency in a recent report said that while oil and natural gas are receiving much of the attention, coal markets are also experiencing significant turmoil, with important implications for many countries where coal remains a key fuel for electricity generation and a range of industrial processes.
Only last year, several countries committed to move away from coal based energy production.
At the COP26 held last year, 40 nations including Vietnam, Poland, South Korea, Egypt, Spain, Nepal, Singapore and Chile made new commitments to phase out coal power. In a new ‘Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement’, countries also committed to scaling up clean power and ensuring a just transition away from coal, a statement issued by United Nations Climate Change said.
Along with the governments, banks and financial institutions too announced that they would restrict funding for coal based projects.
“Coal is the single largest source of global carbon emissions, and this year’s historically high level of coal power generation is a worrying sign of how far off track the world is in its efforts to put emissions into decline towards net zero,” International Energy Agency (IEA) Executive Director Fatih Birol had said last year.
Climate activists and environmentalists have received a blow amid the rapidly changing energy contours that are now severely impacting the global economy. The US Supreme Court ruling in July against the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), limiting its authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, dealt a blow too.
A new special report by the IEA released last month said that amidst the current global energy crisis, nuclear power has the potential to play a significant role in helping countries to securely transition to energy systems dominated by renewables.
“In today’s context of the global energy crisis, skyrocketing fossil fuel prices, energy security challenges and ambitious climate commitments, I believe nuclear power has a unique opportunity to stage a comeback”, the IEA Executive Director said in a statement.