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Wood Mackenzie expects existing carbon policies to have a muted impact on environment. Instead, the pace of coal demand will be influenced more by local governments of emerging markets needing to balance economic grow..

14 Oct 2013

DAEGU/EDINBURGH/HOUSTON (Commodity Online): Efforts at carbon emission reduction could backfire on the domiance of coal surpassing Crude oil as fuel later this decade, accordign to William Durbin, Wood Mackenzie's President of Global Markets.

Speaking at the World Energy Congress (WEC) on Monday, Durbin pointed out that increasing demand for coal from power utilities in China and India apart from US, Europe and other nations is responsible for the dominance of coal.

As such, Wood Mackenzie expects existing carbon policies to have a muted impact. Instead, the pace of coal demand will be influenced more by local governments of emerging markets needing to balance economic growth, energy demand and environmental needs.

Mr Durbin says, "China's economic growth will continue to be driven by urbanisation and industrialisation as the government seeks to improve housing as well as create economic opportunities. At the same time, the pursuit of increased national wealth is needed to support a shift to growth based on consumption. Coal will be used to fuel the growth because, unlike alternatives, it is plentiful and affordable. Consequently, China's demand for coal will almost single-handedly propel the growth of coal as the dominant global fuel."

"Even with environmental concerns and global pressures, China and India just do not have the same latitude that more developed economies have to focus on carbon emissions at the risk of reducing economic development from higher cost alternative fuels and technologies. China could have cleaner air and use more coal to fuel its growth if current emission control technologies were deployed and used more effectively."

Global demand for oil in the year 2000 was 3,500 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) compared to coal at 2,300Mtoe. By 2010, coal demand grew to almost 3,600Mtoe, just behind oil demand of 4,000Mtoe. Looking forward to 2020, Wood Mackenzie expects global coal consumption to reach 4,500Mtoe, overtaking oil which reaches 4,400Mtoe. This is a 25% growth in coal consumption from 2010-2020 with two-thirds of this growth being driven by Chinese coal-fired power generation.

(Coal Image courtesy of Dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net) 

China's power requirements will increase from 5,000 Terawatts per hour (TWh) in 2012 to 8,600TWh in 2020. Coal fired power generation accounts for 46% of that growth. Mr Durbin explains China's preference towards coal, "Firstly, there is limited availability of natural gas supplies due to the rapid pace of domestic demand growth and little progress in developing unconventional gas. Secondly, LNG and pipeline imports are two to three times more costly than domestic and imported coal. And thirdly, renewables cannot provide base load power. This leaves coal as the primary energy source."

Outside of China and India, global coal demand will be sustained. Mr Durbin says," If you take China and India out of the equation, what is more surprising is that under current regulations, coal demand in the rest of the world will remain at current levels. Even though natural gas and renewables make up the bulk of incremental power capacity in Europe, the US and other parts of Asia; coal demand will be sustained because of its price competitiveness."

In Europe, the struggling economy and low coal prices has rendered the European Union (EU) Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) ineffective. The carbon price will need to reach €40/t to encourage fuel switching, which is unlikely before 2020. In North America, despite plentiful quantities of low cost natural gas, relatively inexpensive coal remains competitive in many locations. Southeast Asia has traditionally relied on low cost domestic gas for power needs but as gas supplies struggle to keep pace with demand, coal will become the dominant fuel into power by 2020. Lastly, throughout Northeast Asia, high fuel import costs, security of supply and nuclear issues will support growth in coal generation going forward.

Mr Durbin concludes, "We are unlikely to escape a future dominated by fossil fuels any time soon. And while carbon policies have their role in the more developed economies like Europe and the US, developing economies must first implement and enforce environmental regulations that limit other detrimental gases like sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide , mercury and particulate matter before adopting carbon policies that rely on higher cost fuels or technologies. Hence, local issues in developing countries will do more to influence government policy as they will motivate a need for balancing economic development while managing localised environmental impacts in the foreseeable future."

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