A new report from consultants Pöyry ('Pöyry Point of View') suggests that global demand for coal has almost doubled since the first signing of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The report argues that the future role of coal in the global energy mix must include co-firing with biomass and a renewed focus on carbon capture and storage (CCS).
The global coal fleet makes up around one third of total global electricity generation capacity and around 40% of total electricity generation. As energy demand increases with rising living standards in developing countries and a growing world population, coal's cheap and abundant nature means it is still an attractive source of electricity generation, in spite of global commitments to decarbonise.
Pöyry analysis has developed a retirement profile for existing global coal capacity, which is spread around the world. 45% of capacity is in China, 16% in the US, 9% in India and 8% in Europe. The analysis shows that without radical change, it is likely that the majority of coal-fired generation capacity will be with us for the foreseeable future, with the projection indicating around 1300GW still in operation by 2040. Significantly, this projection does not factor in the several hundred GW of new coal which is under construction around the world and the many more that are still in planning.
Matt Brown, vice president at Pöyry Management Consulting, commented "Our research has revealed a worrying situation where we risk sleep-walking into the mid-century having not addressed the challenges posed by coal to the environment. As world leaders gathered at COP21, there was an implied commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Without significant change, that commitment may be difficult to meet with the retirement portfolio we are projecting for coal.
Increasing the coal fleet's efficiency is very important but in addition we need to co-fire coal capacity with biomass and push harder on CCS. Sadly on CCS, we are in need of urgent practical progress when it comes to the appraisal and development of CO2 storage sites and the economic model that makes costly CCS plants competitive with their carbon-emitting counterparts".
 – the remainder is distributed across many countries. Matt added, "If we want to keep the lights on and save the planet then governments and companies alike need to urgently address the coal conundrum".