Coal renaissance is bad news for greenhouse gas mitigation efforts

Coal power plant
A coal power plant in Datteln, Germany, that transforms chemical energy into 36%-48% electricity and the remaining 52%-64% into waste heat. Image credit: Arnold Paul. Wikimedia Commons.
(—A trio of researchers in Germany has found that because developing nations have increasing energy needs, they are turning to coal because it is the cheapest option available. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Jan Christoph Steckel, Ottmar Edenhofer and Michael Jakob describe their study of emerging countries and what they found regarding the reasons many of them have for using coal instead of oil or other energy producing options.

Over the past decade, emissions from fired power plants have leveled off in the North America, Europe and Australia, due mostly to worries about causing global warming. But using coal as a power source has not slowed in other parts of the world, particularly Asia, the note. They undertook a study to find out why and to learn if there might be ways to head off the trend.

To better understand coal's place on a global scale the researchers broke down emissions into four main categories: per capita income, population, carbon dioxide created per unit of energy and the proportion of energy usage to . That allowed them to look at energy usage country by country and the factors that led to the type of energy sources used.

In looking at the data they had amassed, the researchers concluded that the world is experiencing a renaissance in coal use as an energy source—as developing countries grow, the demand for energy grows, and for the majority of them, coal is the cheapest option, making it the preferred choice. That, the researchers point out, is leading to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, mitigation efforts being put in place by already developed countries are being offset by increases in multiple developing countries, most particularly those in Asia—a troublesome development, the researchers note, particularly in light of exploding GDPs.

Current policies put in place by global organizations to nudge into using less coal is not working, the trio report, because they do not address the root problem—coal is the cheapest option available. If more developed nations want to stem the tide of increasing coal burning, they will need to provide a cheaper option to people living in still .

Explore further

Rich countries sweep billions in public finance for coal under the rug as climate deadlines loom

More information: Drivers for the renaissance of coal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Jan Christoph Steckel, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1422722112

Coal was central to the industrial revolution, but in the 20th century it increasingly was superseded by oil and gas. However, in recent years coal again has become the predominant source of global carbon emissions. We show that this trend of rapidly increasing coal-based emissions is not restricted to a few individual countries such as China. Rather, we are witnessing a global renaissance of coal majorly driven by poor, fast-growing countries that increasingly rely on coal to satisfy their growing energy demand. The low price of coal relative to gas and oil has played an important role in accelerating coal consumption since the end of the 1990s. In this article, we show that in the increasingly integrated global coal market the availability of a domestic coal resource does not have a statistically significant impact on the use of coal and related emissions. These findings have important implications for climate change mitigation: If future economic growth of poor countries is fueled mainly by coal, ambitious mitigation targets very likely will become infeasible. Building new coal power plant capacities will lead to lock-in effects for the next few decades. If that lock-in is to be avoided, international climate policy must find ways to offer viable alternatives to coal for developing countries.

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Citation: Coal renaissance is bad news for greenhouse gas mitigation efforts (2015, July 7) retrieved 25 April 2019 from
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Jul 07, 2015
I demand that developing countries end their development!

Oh, AGW isn't real? Ok, carry on, and all the best to you and yours!

Jul 08, 2015
It is short-term. Read this in a source for utilities:

"Of the $12.2 trillion that will be invested in the energy sector over the next 25 years, two-thirds will go into renewables. That money will make renewables 60% of all new generation, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) forecast.

With the cost of solar expected to fall 48% and the cost of wind to drop 32%, "economics – rather than policy – will increasingly drive the uptake of renewable technologies," BNEF anticipates.

The shift is already happening. Wind is now the most cost-effective source of new electricity generation in Europe, Australia and Brazil. By 2026, it will be lead almost everywhere, BNEF forecasts. Around 2030, utility-scale solar will replace wind as the best buy for new generation."

Jul 11, 2015
@gkam- weren't you saying in another topic that solar is already the cheapest option ... something like $0.04 kW/h...?
Now I'm confused.

Jul 11, 2015
Yup, you apparently are. I gave you the references to look it up. That is the price actually being quoted to buyers by suppliers.

Jul 11, 2015
Wow, glam could make billions peddling his cheaper renewables to developing countries, but then they would smell him coming.

Jul 11, 2015
" . . but then they would smell him coming."

It all depends on where you have your nose.

Jul 12, 2015
Ouch! Good one gkam.

Jul 12, 2015
which is why 74% of U.S. new build is renewable -

Ah I see, so it couldn't be the fact that wind and solar energy gets massively subsidized. They get $23 per MWh federal subsidy, then whatever state subsidy, and then get to sell the power at market retail rates because the utilities are forced to buy it: they have to provide "net metering" - to subtract the energy you make from the energy you buy.

Wind and solar are experiencing a massive building boom because it almost doesn't matter how much it costs - you'll still make money out of it.

Jul 12, 2015
Part of the reason why developing countries are increasing in their use of coal is because of the shift of the manufacturing industries from the west to the east.

The increasing energy prices and taxes on energy, and issues of availability make production less profitable, so while the west is playing green power, the east is making bank on making and selling all the products that we aren't making using the coal that we pretend to be saving.

Jul 12, 2015
"The increasing energy prices and taxes on energy, . . . "
Seen the prices of oil lately?

Natural gas?

PV power?


Jul 12, 2015

According to this article, in 2013 the total federal energy subsidies for wind power was $35/MWh and for solar it was a whopping $231/MWh.

Add in the fact that a large private company that buys electricity off the grid can invest in solar panels and windmills and sell the energy at a US average of $110/MWh via net metering - and that's on top of the subsidies they're already recieving for building it.

Any talk about how cheap wind or solar power is is total bullshit, because that's not what you end up paying for it.

Jul 12, 2015
Seen the prices of ... lately?

All massively cheaper than wind and solar. Do I need to remind you that even in California, you can buy natural gas from the pipeline at less than 2 cents a kWh? Or about 6 cents piped right to your home?

Meanwhile you're paying more than a quarter a kWh for solar power through taxes. Luckily you ain't getting very much of it - yet.

Jul 12, 2015
"Any talk about how cheap wind or solar power is is total bullshit, because that's not what you end up paying for it."

Have you looked into the vast subsidies for Filthy Fuels?

Nukes are subsidized at many points in their operation, probably the most coddled of technologies.

Professionals, perhaps disregarding personal biases, have shown how these are good for society, and are saving us money and good health.


But you can buy your own coal and nuke plants! They are being dumped right there in Europe. You can get your buddies together and buy one, and get rich.

Jul 12, 2015
Have you looked into the vast subsidies for Filthy Fuels?


From the same EIA report:

On a per dollar basis, government policies have led to solar generation being subsidized by over 345 times more than coal and oil and natural gas electricity production, and wind is being subsidized over 52 times more than the more conventional fossil fuels on a unit of production basis.


Nukes are subsidized at many points in their operation, probably the most coddled of technologies.

Nuclear power is getting a mind-bending two dollars per MWh in subsidies. Two dollars! That's 0.2 cents per kWh.

gkam, I think you're living in a totally different reality than the rest of us, or simply stuck in the 70's with all you think you know about what's going on.

Jul 12, 2015
"Nuclear power is getting a mind-bending two dollars per MWh in subsidies. Two dollars! That's 0.2 cents per kWh."

Really? the Price-Anderson Act is worth more than that itself!

Long-term storage? You cannot tell me how much it is going to cost to maintain security over those intensely-radioactive (and exothermic) materials for the required 200,000 years.

You cannot even tell us how to do it, and don't just toss it off with some term, such geological disposal, because you do not know how to do it to last that long.

And the Police State required for that long? How cheap is that?

Jul 12, 2015
Really? the Price-Anderson Act is worth more than that itself!

It's an insurance, not a subsidy. You're using the same false logic where you conflate loan guarantees with paid money.

Long-term storage? You cannot tell me how much it is going to cost

That's right. I can't tell you - because you refuse to believe anything I would tell you. Trying to explain nuclear waste disposal to you is like explaining the finer points of evolution to Fred Phelps.

All I can do is remind you that deep borehole disposal is going to cost a few hundred millions to drill a bunch of holes and drop all of our nuclear waste 5 miles down into bedrock. They'll stay there for long enough that anything that can possibly leak out won't be a great hazard to anyone.

Jul 12, 2015
Tell you folk what: I volunteer to take all the production waste from wind and PV plants if you take the coal toxins, heavy metals, particulates, and the intensely-radioactive waste from coal and nukes.

Jul 12, 2015
Tell you folk what: I volunteer to take all the production waste from wind and PV plants if you take the coal toxins, heavy metals, particulates, and the intensely-radioactive waste from coal and nukes.

Remember the last time you said that, and I gave you a list of all the toxic stuff that comes out of PV manufacturing plants? Do I need to dig it out again?

Point was, that there's massively more actual pollution coming out of renewables production and recycling of the materials than from nuclear power because you need thousands and thousands of panels and turbines to match the output of a truckload of nuclear fuel.

Jul 12, 2015
The Price-Anderson act is basically:

The Act establishes a no fault insurance-type system in which the first approximately $12.6 billion (as of 2011) is industry-funded as described in the Act. Any claims above the $12.6 billion would be covered by a Congressional mandate to retroactively increase nuclear utility liability or would be covered by the federal government.

The actual sum that the industry has to cover for depends on how many reactors they're operating.

One can turn the insurance into a subsidy by estimating the risk and cost of an accident in comparison to the amount of money that is not covered by the fund - although such a "subsidy" is only paid in imagination until such accident actually occurs.


In 2008 the Congressional Budget Office estimated the value of the subsidy at only $600,000 per reactor per year.

Jul 12, 2015

The 'Shocking' Cost of Letting Companies Pollute for Free
A new report offers a big-picture look at energy subsidies

"Energy subsidy," as the phrase is tossed around Washington, typically refers to any financial help the government gives to producers of oil, wind, or other sectors of the energy industry."

" . . researchers at the International Monetary Fund describe energy subsidies in a sobering new paper that puts a comprehensive price tag on global aid to the energy industry. The price tag, which IMF officials describe as "shocking," is a big one: This year, the report estimates, fossil fuels are being subsidized to the tune of $5.3 trillion, or 6.5 percent of GDP.

Jul 12, 2015

No it is not

Show me the pre-subsidy cost data and I'll believe. Your articles reports the utility contract cost which doesn't include the subsidies paid.

The ptc of 2.3 cents per Kwh is for the first 10 years or operation

I believe that's false. I would like a reference.
global aid to the energy industry.
This year, the report estimates, fossil fuels are being subsidized to the tune of $5.3 trillion, or 6.5 percent of GDP.


the critics ignore that these fossil-fuel subsidies are almost exclusive to non-Western countries. Twelve such nations account for 75% of the world's fossil-fuel subsidies. Iran tops the list with $82 billion a year, followed by Saudi Arabia at $61 billion. Russia, India and China spend between $30 billion and $40 billion, and Venezuela, Egypt, Iran, U.A.E., Indonesia, Mexico and Algeria make up the rest.

Jul 12, 2015
A couple of extra points here Eika. The vision is that renewables will replace fossil fuels. The anti renewable crowd will not touch the issue of the pollution created by mining tar sands - so please watch this video

That's a red herring. Tar sands, and oil in general, is a very minor source of fossil fuels. Coal and gas are the major bulk sources of energy, and they keep being as long as renewable energy remains so much more expensive.

Why not support that transition - to a better world - instead of spending your life pissing on it?

I'm not supporting a transition that threatens to break down the entire society and put everyone into poverty - and practically kill those who already are. The cost of energy is the main determining factor of our productive output, and our living standards are utterly dependent on it.

Get the cost down or get out, and stop the subsidy madness.

Jul 12, 2015
When you do not know even basic information about the topic - and you cannot even use google - why do keep posting?

That's pretty rich coming from you.

Besides, the question was only about whether it was for 10 years or not. It's irrelevant to the question because there are several different subsidies that apply on the state and federal level. There's PTC, then ITC, then the Department of Treasury grants on projects, and new grants and subdsidies keep popping up with more and more money as soon as the old programs expire.

Solar has its own subsidy system because it's not under the PTC. It's all so complex it is actually hard to google what is being paid for what by whom.

Jul 12, 2015
It is not a red herring at all.

Yes it is. You're trying to drag this into arguments about particulars when the problem is about the general situation: fossil fuels cost less and provide more energy. Whether tar sands are particularily nasty is just irrelevant.

I don't want tar sands oil either, and will gladly do without - that won't change the overall situation though.

I have already shown you all the evidence you should need that the transition is for the best

A bunch of propaganda articles from green energy advocates that simply list impressive but sadly misleading figures.

Jul 12, 2015
It is just right wing idiot talking points that we will put everyone into poverty.

I'm not right wing. I don't have a political affiliation.

It's simply a fact that the society uses energy to do everything, and every dollar of GDP has an associated cost in energy. To make energy you need to spend energy directly, but also indirectly by making the money to pay for the whole thing.

Increasing the cost of energy in money increases the cost of energy in energy by requiring more economic activity to pay for it - which means that less energy is available to all the other functions of the society: the net domestic production drops and everyone's wealth diminishes.

The EROEI of wind and solar power is great in terms of direct energy cost, but extremely poor in terms of the indirect economic energy cost, and made worse by the subsidies that over-compensate the producers.

Jul 12, 2015
You can use DSIRE to browse through individual states incentive programs for renewable energy:

Overall, there are over 2,730 different state and county, town and utility level financial incentive programs and policies for renewable energy.

Jul 12, 2015
First, solar and wind have to reach grid parity with electricity at around $40/MWh without subsidies. Then they have to reach parity with heat at $10-20/MWh to really start pushing gas and coal off the market, because 3/4 of the market for energy is in fact heat and not electricity.

Then comes the biggest elephant in the room, which is grid integration - which so far most everyone refuses to even aknowledge as a problem.

Jul 12, 2015
Show me the financials Onions. Until you can, this is just pure green BS. PROVE a company can actually make money selling solar at 4c/kwh without any subsidies. Until you do that YOU are part of the problem with renewable energy credibility.

Jul 12, 2015


True' wind LCOE is understated since the PTC is missing. The annuity value of $21.5/MWh for 10 years at 6.5% interest, annuitized over 30 years is $7.2/MWh.

This unsurprising result just shows the PTC was intended to make wind 'grid competitive', and seems to do so—at taxpayer expense. That is why investment collapses toward zero in its absence.


actual installed cost/MW stopped declining, and started rising around 2005. There are few onshore turbines larger than 3 MW because of transportation (road/rail) constraints on blade length.

Then the kicker:

Studies of UK and Denmark wind farms suggest their actual economic lives appear to be 12-15 years due to wear and tear.[4] One of the unanticipated problems that arose with larger turbines is premature cracking failure of the main axial bearing(s).

Jul 12, 2015
Actually it is even a little more complected than earning money at 4c/KWH. Let's say that you are able to supply that power for 4c over a 12 hour period at a profit but you drove so many gas power plants out of business that power for the remaining 12 hours when there was no solar costs say 15c/kwh. Overall rates to the consumer would go up negating any real benefits.

Solar will not be an economic reality until we can store the power that it creates.

Jul 12, 2015
Please show support for saying that electricity from fossil or nukes is coming in at 4 cents Kwh.

That's the utility cost for electricity from natural gas. Actual cost, and not some fictional projection.

It hovers around 3-5 cents depending on the year.

Look hard at the graph

That's the graph that doesn't take into account the effects on capital cost from the subsidies, because the EIA assumes zero subsidies when they count the LCOE, when in reality there's plenty. The faster you recoup the investment, the lower your capital costs, so the subsidies lower the up-front price.

No it is not. Tar sands are one part of the overall problem

You're complaining of a squeaking wheel when the whole car is on fire. It's simply not the most important issue here, and not relevant to what we're talking about. Stop trying to drag this off to tangents.

Jul 12, 2015
All of the articles contain facts - sorry you don't like them

Indeed - you can lie by telling nothing but the truth.

Your articles say a utility contract costs so and so much - but doesn't mention the subsidies and other incentives that ultimately apply. They say renewables are 75% of new investment - but don't disclose the real reason which is government subsidies.

Wind is cheap. It can be $37/MWh - but it's also expensive. It can be $81/MWh. It's not going down uniformly.

Support your claim Eikka. I want to see data to support that claim.

All the time.

We haven't even gotten to the point where you explain how grid integration isn't going to be a ridicuously massive cost on top of the renewables.

Jul 12, 2015
Oh, my, . . why are we even trying to advance civilization?

Let's just give up.

Eikka, perhaps you should see somebody about your paranoia. Ask 166 where he goes.

Jul 12, 2015
Then why say something as stupid as suggesting that switching to renewable energy will " break down the entire society and put everyone into poverty"

Because it isn't stupid. It's what will happen when energy costs rise - either because your renewable transition falls flat on its face out of sheer technical impossibility (integration issues), or because it ends up costing you so much to keep up that you've got no resources left over to do anything else.

When the government is spending $231/MWh on solar power and pulling the money out of your ass, how are you going to keep competing against the Chinese who don't give a damn about CO2 targets?

If you fail, from where are you going to pull the money to keep building windmills?

Jul 12, 2015
Let's just give up.

Please do, so the people with a clue can get something done about the matter.

We NEED to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to do this thing right. Not just throw other people's money around and hope it works as good as it feels.

The problem with the US right now is that the people with the best social policies are also the most oblivious about practical issues, and the party with all the economists and people who know how to count 1+1 are also full of selfish assholes and religious nutters.

Jul 12, 2015
suggesting that switching to renewable energy will " break down the entire society

Also - strawman argument.

I didn't say that switching to renewable energy will destroy us. I'm saying the way we are doing it will.

Jul 12, 2015
Eikka one could attribute the renewable powers lobby lack of financial viability concerns to ignorance but I really don't think that this is the case. Green power is just another tool in their arsenal of weapons that is designed to reduce the western world to rubble. This is all spelled out in the Saul Alinsky play book. Basically is says that you reduce society to rubble and rebuild it to your image when people demand that something be done.

Jul 12, 2015
"Green power is just another tool in their arsenal of weapons that is designed to reduce the western world to rubble."

You have revealed more about yourself than about "green power".

Scary, . .

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