Coal continues to have a large role in world power generation, but the question has to be asked why it still plays such a large part in EU power generation? Isn’t EU policy about reducing European reliance on carbon power sources?
Well part of the reasons for coal’s continued role lies in some European policy initiatives ,its also partly due to non European energy developments which Europe can’t control.
The first policy to impact is nuclear. After the Fukushima accident, Germany decided to put its nuclear power policy in reverse. The consequence of this is two fold, to generate power it needs to find alternative to nuclear, so coal now makes up over 40% of Germany’s power generation. To seek to meet its carbon reduction commitments Germany is forced to invest heavily in renewables. The investment in renewables forces up the price of power which creates an opportunity for coal as even with carbon costs it is economic. So the fear of nuclear (which is the only non carbon baseload power production source we have at present) leads to greater carbon emissions and greater costs for German consumers paying for renewable energy.
This is exacerbated by the impact of shale gas in the US. Shale gas production has reduced energy costs in the US and this has impacted US coal, US coal prices have had to fall domestically to compete. So this has led to US coal being sold into Europe for power generation. Of course in Europe there is great opposition to Shale gas fracking, but not to buying cheap US coal whose price is determined by US shale gas! Tha.t cheaper US coal can bear higher carbon costs and still be economic
So we have a number of policy initiatives which together mean that Europe uses less of the lowest carbon fuel – nuclear. That it won’t invest in the lowest carbon carbon fuel source – shale gas. The use of renewables to fill the gap left by nuclear is costly and its result is to mainly allowing the consumption of more coal.
There is something wrong here isn’t there? The really worrying aspect of this is that some will see this as meaning that we need to invest in renewables regardless of the cost, instead of thinking holistically about energy policy. We need to seek the least worst course to a low carbon future, we are not on that course at present