A new report from consulting firm Pöyry highlights that despite growing climate change concerns, global demand for coal has almost doubled since the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.
And the report argues that any future role of coal in the global energy mix must include co-firing with biomass and a renewed focus on carbon capture and storage (CCS).
The report states that as energy demand increases with rising living standards in developing countries and a growing world population, “coal's cheap and abundant nature means it is still an attractive source of electricity generation, in spite of global commitments to decarbonize”.
Pöyry’s analysis suggests that without radical change, “it is likely that the majority of coal-fired generation capacity will be with us for the foreseeable future, with the projection indicating around 1300 GW still in operation by 2040”.
And Pöyry stresses that its projection does not factor the several hundred gigawatts of new coal plants which are currently under construction around the world.
Matt Brown, vice-president at Pöyry Management Consulting, said: "Our research has revealed a worrying situation where we risk sleepwalking into the mid-century having not addressed the challenges posed by coal to the environment.”
He said that at COP21 in Paris last year, “there was an implied commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Without significant change, that commitment may be difficult to meet with the retirement portfolio we are projecting for coal.”
Brown added that increasing the coal fleet's efficiency is very important “but in addition we need to co-fire coal capacity with biomass and push harder on CCS. Sadly on CCS, we are in need of urgent practical progress when it comes to the appraisal and development of CO2 storage sites and the economic model that makes costly CCS plants competitive with their carbon-emitting counterparts."
The global coal fleet makes up around one third of total global electricity generation capacity and around 40 per cent of total electricity generation.
Some 45 per cent of global coal capacity is in China, with 16 per cent in the US, 9 per cent in India, 8 per cent in Europe and the remainder distributed across other countries.