Want to waste money? Keep investing in coal power instead of renewables

Leaving fossil fuels behind isn’t good just for the planet, it’s also an economically smart move, as the costs of renewables are dropping across the globe.

A study by the financial think tank Carbon Tracker showed coal developers could end up losing up to $600 billion as renewable energy is now cheaper than coal energy in many countries.

More than 60% of the coal power plants operating across the globe generate electricity at higher costs than it could be produced by using renewables, the report showed, estimating that by 2030 this will be true for all coal plants.

Matt Gray, the co-author of the report, said: “Renewables are out-competing coal around the world and proposed coal investments risk becoming stranded assets which could lock in high-cost coal power for decades. The market is driving the low-carbon energy transition but governments aren’t listening.”

The Paris Agreement, signed in 2015, aims at limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. For this to happen, the use of coal in electricity generation should decline by 80% from 2010 to 2030, which means retiring one plant per day until 2040, the report showed.

Nevertheless, this will be challenging, as there are 499 gigawatts of new coal power plants that are already under construction or planned at a cost of $638 billion – which would be hard to recover as it takes up to 20 years to cover the costs of a coal plant, Carbon Tracker estimated.

The report looked at the economics of 95% of coal plants that are operating, under construction, or planned worldwide. That’s 6,696 plants currently working and 1,046 in the pipeline. China remains the main player, with 982GW of current coal power, 100GW in construction, and 106GW planned.

Meanwhile, India also ranks high, with 222GW of existing coal capacity and 373GW of coal power under construction. The EU is also a significant player, with 149GW of current coal power, mainly in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Carbon Tracker’s report claimed that coal power will eventually power out of existence due to market forces, making more room for renewable energy. Nevertheless, there are still governments that incentivize coal plants through subsidies.

Sriya Sundaresan, co-head of power and utilities at Carbon Tracker and co-author, said: “Investors should be wary of relying on continued government support for coal when a phase-out will save their voters billions and make their economies more competitive.”

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