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CO2 emissions from coal to hit record high on rising electricity demand – IEA

Renewable energy is expanding rapidly but not fast enough to meet the near 5% global increase in electricity demand this year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned this week.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from coal used to generate electricity are set to hit record levels in 2022, the IEA added.

CO2 is one of the greenhouse gases (GHG) that causes global warming; the expected increase in emissions in 2022 would have a negative impact on the reductions agreed in the Paris Agreement aiming to limit global warming.

As the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020 and demand for energy fell sharply, there were hopes the recovery’s estimated increase for energy would be mostly met with renewable energy.

More than 200 countries agreed in the 2015 Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emissions aiming to limit the rise of global temperatures to 1.5 degree Celsius by 2100, compared to pre-industrial levels.

However, some experts believe the world is on course for a 3-degree-Celsius increase – and the IEA report on electricity would concur with that pessimistic view.

As some countries start recovering from the pandemic, global electricity demand is expected to expand by almost 5% in 2021 and 4% in 2022, with China and India accounting for most of the increase.


But most of 2021’s increase, said the IEA, will come from coal – the most polluting of fossil fuels – as pledges from the EU and other countries to phase out coal power plants will not make a dent in emissions for most of the 2020s.

Many other plants, mostly in emerging economies but also in developed countries like the US, have started up in recent years and their lifespan is expected to be several decades.

Renewable energy generation, such as hydropower, wind, and solar, is expected to increase by 8% in 2021 and by more than 6% in 2022.

Despite this, the new IEA analysis estimates that renewables will only be able to fulfil around half of the predicted growth in global electricity consumption over the next two years.

“Fossil fuel-based electricity generation is set to cover 45% of additional demand in 2021 and 40% in 2022, with nuclear power accounting for the rest,” said the IEA.

“As a result, carbon emissions from the electricity sector – which fell in both 2019 and 2020 – are forecast to increase by 3.5% in 2021 and by 2.5% in 2022, which would take them to an all-time high.”

The coal industry has said emissions from plants could be subject to carbon, capture and storage (CCS) technologies, but implementation has been poor and costs remain high.

In the US, however, the IEA said the FIRST programme could bring some real change in the coal sector.

The previous US Administration (2017-2021) had reversed policies aiming to reduce the role of coal in the energy mix.

The sector, anyway, would be slowing shrinking, said the IEA, as investors are shying away from fossil fuel producing companies’ stocks.

The current US Administration has rejoined the Paris Agreement and is more committed to decarbonisation, but clear and measurable targets are yet elusive.

“Despite challenging circumstances for coal, research and development on coal power generation [in the US] continues. In addition to a few projects to retrofit coal power plants with carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), new concepts under the umbrella of coal FIRST programme continue,” said the IEA.

FIRST stands for Flexible, Innovative, Resilient, Small, Transformative; Coal FIRST is a public-led initiative aiming to continue using coal in a cleaner energy future.

“Some of the most promising [projects under Coal FIRST] include Prairie State’s combined 270 MW ultra-supercritical (USC) coal plant, 87 MW gas turbine, 50 MW battery storage plus a system of algae to absorb the CO2 and produce synthetic fuel,” said the IEA.

“Consol Energy’s project to use coal washing rejections as fuel while applying CCUS; and the use of coal in the supercritical CO2 Allam cycle.”

The use of coal for production electricity is also extensive in emerging markets, which will be critical to the global energy transition towards decarbonisation as they recover from the pandemic.

“As economies rebound, we’ve seen a surge in electricity generation from fossil fuels. To shift to a sustainable trajectory, we need to massively step up investment in clean energy technologies – especially renewables and energy efficiency”, said Keisuke Sadamori, the IEA director of energy markets and security.
Source: ICIS (https://www.icis.com/explore/resources/news/2021/07/20/10664889/co2-emissions-from-coal-to-hit-record-high-on-rising-electricity-demand-iea)

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