DEMAND for coal rose for the first time in two years in 2017, with China and India leading output, the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) said in its World Energy Outlook 2018 released last week
The Outlook said that demand would drop to 2.28 billion tons in 2040 from 5.36 billion tons in 2017.
It added that coal would remain a major source of energy, providing both heat and light until 2040.
While coal-fired plants are being phased out in the West such as in Canada, Germany and the UK, countries in South East Asia and Africa are increasing demand for the fossil fuel.
For instance, coal has been a key component in the economic development of South Africa and its neighbours.
It remains the primary source of power generation, it contributes one third of the country’s liquid fuels and chemicals, and it provides great economic benefit from the exporting of specific grades of coal, according to the Johannesburg-based Fossil Fuel Foundation.
‘The mining, beneficiation, transportation and utilisation of coal also provides considerable employment opportunities in a country high in unemployment,’ it noted.
‘For these reasons, coal is facing a great challenge,’ said the Foundation, which is organising a conference this week ‘to consider how southern Africa’s coal resources can be responsibly exploited and utilised for the benefit of its peoples and the growth of its economy whilst also meeting the principles of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.’
At a time when geopolitical factors are exerting new and complex influences on energy markets, underscoring the critical importance of energy security, the IEA’s flagship publication details global energy trends and what possible impact they will have on supply and demand, carbon emissions, air pollution, and energy access.
The Executive Director of the IEA, Fatih Birol, said: ‘Our analysis shows that over 70 per cent of global energy investments will be government-driven and as such the message is clear – the world’s energy destiny lies with government decisions.
‘Crafting the right policies and proper incentives will be critical to meeting our common goals of securing energy supplies, reducing carbon emissions, improving air quality in urban centres, and expanding basic access to energy in Africa and elsewhere.’
According to the IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario, global energy-related CO2 emissions would peak around 2020 and then enter a steep and sustained decline, fully in line with the trajectory required to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
But most emissions linked to energy infrastructure are already essentially locked-in, the IEA noted.
In particular, coal-fired power plants, which account for one-third of energy-related CO2 emissions today, represent more than a third of cumulative locked-in emissions to 2040, according to the Outlook
‘We have reviewed all current and under-construction energy infrastructure around the world – such as power plants, refineries, cars and trucks, industrial boilers, and home heaters – and find they will account for some 95 per cent of all emissions permitted under international climate targets in coming decades,’ said Birol.
‘This means that if the world is serious about meeting its climate targets then, as of today, there needs to be a systematic preference for investment in sustainable energy technologies. ‘But we also need to be much smarter about the way that we use our existing energy system. ‘We can create some room for manoeuvre by expanding the use of Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage, hydrogen, improving energy efficiency, and in some cases, retiring capital stock early.
‘To be successful, this will need an unprecedented global political and economic effort,’ Birol added.
Countries such as South Africa are turning to an energy mix that will include coal production and renewables.
But experts have pointed out that clouds and calm weather could limit solar and wind power and as such fossil fuels would still have to be part of the energy mix.
The experts note that current technologies can make coal plants burn fuel more efficiently and step in when renewables fail.