Death knell for coal

“We see clear winners for the next 25 years – natural gas but especially wind and solar – replacing the champion of the previous 25 years, coal.”

Dr Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency predicted the end of the carbon era as he launched the World Outlook for Energy 2016 released yesterday.[1]

The finding that most commentators have picked up on was the bullish tone adopted with reference to oil. Despite the sunny forecast for solar and fellow renewable sources, the IEA sees no imminent alternative to oil for transport fuel.  They assume that electric vehicles will continue to nibble away at the fossil fuel emissions of passenger traffic but highlight the important percentage of fuel consumed by air and marine transport.  As Rockfire observed last month, there are promising experiments underway for biofuelled aircraft but the IEA does not see them making much impact before 2040.

Another interesting observation was that the significant advances made by renewable energies had largely been concentrated on replacing fossil-fuel derived electricity.  Dr Birol pointed out that industry and construction, as well as freight transport, had yet to benefit from these advances to an appreciable degree.  This is where the immediate future of renewable sources lies, in his view.

A clear advocate for the Paris Agreement, the report is part exhortation, part analysis and hopes as much as predicts that renewables, combined with energy efficiency, will be key to the world’s energy mix over the coming quarter century.

Perhaps the most debatable element of the report is its prescription for coal.  Last month, the energy media were full of the news that renewable sources now offer a combined power capacity that exceeds that of coal.  They do not yet generate more electricity but the report suggests that the IEA thinks that situation is about to change.   This bleak prognosis for carbon contrasts sharply with the message transmitted repeatedly from Mr Trump on his campaign trail.  The US President-elect is a self-styled coal champion who has described himself as a “last shot for the miners”.[2]  And he is nothing if not combative.  It may be enough for a respected international authority to relegate coal consumption to history for Mr Trump to cast it in a leading role for future fuel supply.