A Free-Market Energy Blog

King Global Coal (NYT article parsed)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- November 28, 2018

“Home to half the world’s population, Asia accounts for three-fourths of global coal consumption today. More important, it accounts for more than three-fourths of coal plants that are either under construction or in the planning stages — a whopping 1,200 of them….”

 – Somini Sengupta, The World Needs to Quit Coal. Why Is It So Hard? New York Times, November 24, 2018.

It’s a fossil-fuel world. Dense, storable, portable mineral energies are winning despite much government-directed misdirection at home and abroad. And the Paris global climate accord, three years old next month, is reeling as a result.

Every now and then, the anti-fossil-fuel media owns up to the harsh reality of consumers choosing the most economical, convenient energies. This was the case of a recent New York Times feature, The World Needs to Quit Coal. Why Is It So Hard? (November 24, 2018).

Author Somini Sengupta assumes climate alarmism (what’s new?) and then gets to the reality of the matter.

“… three years after the Paris agreement, when world leaders promised action, coal shows no sign of disappearing…. Last year, in fact, global production and consumption increased after two years of decline.”

“Cheap, plentiful and the most polluting of fossil fuels, coal remains the single largest source of energy to generate electricity worldwide.”

“… coal is a powerful incumbent. It’s there by the millions of tons under the ground.”

“And even while renewables are spreading fast, they still have limits: Wind and solar power flow when the breeze blows and the sun shines, and that requires traditional electricity grids to be retooled.”

“The battle over the future of coal is being waged in Asia. Home to half the world’s population, Asia accounts for three-fourths of global coal consumption today. More important, it accounts for more than three-fourths of coal plants that are either under construction or in the planning stages — a whopping 1,200 of them, according to Urgewald, a German advocacy group that tracks coal development. Heffa Schücking, who heads Urgewald, called those plants ‘an assault on the Paris goals’.”

“Indonesia is digging more coal. Vietnam is clearing ground for new coal-fired power plants. Japan, reeling from 2011 nuclear plant disaster, has resurrected coal.”


“The world’s juggernaut, though, is China. The country consumes half the world’s coal. More than 4.3 million Chinese are employed in the country’s coal mines. China has added 40 percent of the world’s coal capacity since 2002, a huge increase for just 16 years. ‘I had to do the calculation three times,’ said Carlos Fernández Alvarez, a senior energy analyst at the International Energy Agency. ‘I thought it was wrong. It’s crazy’.”

“Chinese coal consumption grew in 2017, though at a far slower pace than before, and is on track to grow again in 2018, after declining in previous years.

“China’s coal industry is now scrambling to find new markets, from Kenya to Pakistan. Chinese companies are building coal plants in 17 countries, according to Urgewald. Its regional rival, Japan, is in the game too: nearly 60 percent of planned coal projects developed by Japanese companies are outside the country, mostly financed by Japanese banks. That contest is particularly stark in Southeast Asia, one of the world’s last frontiers of coal expansion.”


“Born in 1976, a year after the end of the war, [Nguy Thi Khanh] remembers doing homework by the light of a kerosene lamp. In her northern village, the electricity failed several hours a day…. Today, pretty much every household in Vietnam, population 95 million, has electricity.”

“Hanoi, the capital, where Ms. Nguy now lives, is in a frenzy of new construction, with soaring demand for cement and steel — both energy guzzlers. The economy is galloping. And, up and down the coast, 1,600 kilometers in length, foreign companies, mainly from Japan and China, are building coal plants.”

“Coal accounts for 36 percent of [Vietnam’s] power generation capacity now; it is projected to grow to 42 percent by 2030, according to the government. To feed those plants, Vietnam will need to import 90 million tons of coal by 2030.”

“Most plants in Vietnam use old, polluting technologies that many investors, including Marubeni, have recently promised not to back in future projects. A company spokesman said by email that it would continue with the Nghi Son project ‘to contribute to stable power supply and to economic growth’.”


“Telangana [India] now has round-the-clock electricity. Its farmers get it free to pump water. It sweetens the re-election bid of Telangana’s top elected official, K. Chandrashekar Rao, in state polls later this year. ‘We have coal,’ Mr. Mishra said. ‘We are producing more every year. For the next 100 years we have it’.”

“So deeply is India invested in coal, this, like other mines, is state owned. So are most power plants. Coal subsidizes the country’s vast rail network. That person at the top of that system, India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, has sought to cast himself as a champion of clean energy. But Mr. Modi has been inaugurating new coal mines, too.”

“In an interview in the capital, New Delhi, India’s energy secretary, Ajay Bhalla, said some 50 gigawatts of additional coal capacity were under construction. That’s a fraction of what was under development even a decade ago, when India’s energy demand was projected to soar. Many of those plants are meant to replace older, more polluting ones. But coal would not sunset anytime soon, he predicted, not until there’s a cheap and efficient way to store energy from solar and wind energy.”

“For now, though, coal accounts for 58 percent of India’s energy mix. ‘It’s not that I’m using the coal very willingly,’ Mr. Bhalla said. ‘But I have to’.”


It gets back to William Stanley Jevons who saw that there was no turning back from the coal age to the dilute, intermittent renewable energies of before. “Coal, in truth, stands not beside but entirely above all other commodities,” he stated in the introduction to The Coal Question (1865).

It is the material energy of the country—the universal aid—the factor in everything we do. With coal almost any feat is possible or easy; without it we are thrown back into the laborious poverty of early times.


  1. "Why Greens are Turning Away from a Carbon Tax" (POLITICO documents a turning point) - Master Resource  

    […] The about-face in Australia. The province rebellion in Canada…. (And don’t forget the global coal boom that makes any political jurisdiction’s carbon tax largely irrelevant.) The political […]


  2. Mark Bahner  

    “It gets back to William Stanley Jevons who saw that there was no turning back from the coal age to the dilute, intermittent renewable energies of before.”

    Jevons never saw a photovoltaic cell, nor an 5+ MW offshore wind turbine. By 2040 at the latest, photovoltaics and wind will produce more electricity worldwide than coal.


  3. Kent Hawkins  


    I do not agree with your comment that suggests wind and solar electricity generation are not dilute and intermittent because they clearly are, regardless of the time frame of reference.

    Because of their intermittency, electricity produced by them, typically a sum over time (often a year) is not, by itself, useful electricity. This commonly reported measure ignores their intermittent nature, which is very problematic. See https://www.masterresource.org/hawkins-kent/evaluating-wind-impact-part-i-basics/ and https://www.masterresource.org/hawkins-kent/evaluating-wind-impact-part-ii-ramping/ for a representation of this. Geographic dispersion does not mitigate this.

    To be useful, wind and solar electricity production require other generation support, on a very short time frame (minutes) to deliver reliable and steady electricity. So, you cannot compare electricity data published for wind or solar delivery to that of reliable sources such as coal, gas, nuclear and, to a large extent, hydro.

    I am not aware of your source, but it is possible that the electricity production data presented includes a compilation of all renewables including wind, solar, hydro and biomass for example. In any event, the claim to producing more electricity than coal is questionable even using the crude measure for wind and solar of a total amount generated over time.

    On dilution, an important measure is power density as explained by Vaclav Smil at https://www.masterresource.org/smil-vaclav/smil-density-comparisons-v/, and the subject of a book by him referred to in the post. Although, the power density of wind and solar may be improving with newer technology, it is still a serious, and growing, problem for both.

    The reason for this is that power density is more than the simple comparison of large modern wind turbines to antiquated windmills for example. In the modern world of electricity generation, power density encompasses the power density of societies use relative to generation capabilities. In modern societies our overall energy needs are very great, and electricity has a very large, and growing, role in fulfilling these needs. Smil considers power density to be perhaps the most revealing variable in energetics.


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