Has Coal Come to a Fork in the Road?

Coal’s future depends on politics and technology. The world currently seems divided between the OECD members—attempting to phase coal out of their energy mix—and much of the rest of the world that is torn between access to cheap energy and its environmental impacts.

This leaves governments faced with convincing their citizens to pay for climate change policy before securing access to their basic needs.

Regardless of which view prevails:

  • Even the externalities of renewable energy development, such as intermittency, reliability and system efficiency impacts, will not be sufficient to prevent coal becoming commercially uncompetitive, particularly if a global climate deal is achieved that imposes carbon pricing.

  • China may cease to be a major importer of coal. It is planning to reduce coal’s share in its energy mix and may even reduce coal demand in absolute terms.

  • India may pick up the slack resulting from any reduced global coal market role for China. However, India’s ambitious plans to boost domestic production could stymie such hopes.

  • For now, coal is winning the ‘battle for Asia’ against natural gas, based on its affordability, but its future depends on successful, widespread adoption of carbon capture and storage (CCS). 

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