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Saturday, Aug 24, 2019

The closure of Germany’s last mine doesn’t mean the end of coal

The International Energy Agency forecasts that coal will remain among the largest single sources of electricity generation for another 30 years, with it currently accountable for 41% of global generation and 29% of all primary energy demand.

editorials Updated: Dec 27, 2018 09:05 IST

Hindustan Times
Coal miners pose with the last piece of black coal at at the Prosper Haniel colliery on December 21, 2018, in Bottrop, Germany
Coal miners pose with the last piece of black coal at at the Prosper Haniel colliery on December 21, 2018, in Bottrop, Germany(AFP)
         

Last week, miners at the Prosper-Haniel mine presented a chunk of coal to President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at a ceremony to announce the closure of the country’s last coal mine. This, however, doesn’t mean that Germany will be completely off coal: the country will continue to import cheaper, foreign coal, which means mining operations such as drilling, blasting, hauling, collection, and transportation will pollute the countries that export coal to the economic powerhouse, but the pollution burden on the European nation will be much lower. Moreover, while Germany has closed down deep-shaft mining, it is yet to close down open-cast lignite, or brown coal, mines. Lignite is considered even dirtier than black coal but remains cheap to extract.

Germany’s decision to close down the last coal mine comes on the heels of other nations doing their bit to meet their decarbonisation goals. According to new research presented at the UN climate change conference in Katowice, Poland, Denmark, Britain, and Canada lead the world when it comes to implementing measures to mitigate climate change. The report, Energy Revolution: A Global Outlook, from the Imperial College London and E4tech, says on five inter-linked areas ---- Clean power, fossil fuels, uptake and sales of electric vehicles, capacity for carbon storage, energy efficiency of households, buildings and transport -- Denmark leads the pack. This is not surprising considering Denmark started pretty early: its Samso Island, which is 100% renewable energy-powered, celebrated 20 years of its existence in 2017. In the US too, despite Donald Trump’s efforts to repeal regulations or otherwise boost coal consumption, power generators are set to retire a total of 14.3 GW of coal-fired power plant capacity in 2018, up from 7.0 GW of capacity retired in 2017, according to an S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis. This will be the highest level of coal retirements since 2015, when the US power companies included in the analysis retired 14.7 GW of coal-fired capacity.

While these developments are positive news ----- phasing out coal is considered crucial to limiting global warming to within 1.5 degree C, a recent UN report said ---- the world’s coal addiction is not going to go away soon because many parts of the world such as India and China still need the cheap fuel to power their economic growth even though wind and solar costs continue to decline at a rapid pace. Earlier this year, even Australia said the country should “absolutely” continue to use and exploit its coal. The International Energy Agency forecasts that coal will remain among the largest single sources of electricity generation for another 30 years, with it currently accountable for 41% of global generation and 29% of all primary energy demand.

First Published: Dec 26, 2018 17:34 IST

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