Demand for coal in Europe rose for the second consecutive year in 2022, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), helped by “strong growth” in electricity generation, where coal partially replaced gas as a backup energy source.
Once supplanted by cheaper and less polluting Russian gas, coal is returning to Europe to generate electricity when carbon-free sources such as nuclear power and renewables are unavailable, according to Euractiv.
And since gas prices are expected to remain volatile for some time, the wind is blowing more favorably for European coal-fired power plants, an IEA spokesman said Jan. 23.
“Our forecast is that, despite the recent decline in gas prices, coal will continue to be more competitive than gas through 2025,” said Carlos Fernandez Alvarez, head of the IEA’s Gas, Coal and Electricity Markets division.
According to the International Energy Agency’s 2022 Coal Report released in December, the growing demand for coal was driven mainly by the conflict in Ukraine and the need to reduce gas consumption following a cut in Russian supplies to Europe.
Demand for coal in Europe has also increased due to cuts in nuclear production in France, Germany and Belgium, Alvarez said. “There is a gap [в мощности по производству электроэнергии]to be filled in. And with high gas prices, coal fills this gap,” the IEA analyst said at a meeting organized by industry association Euracoal.
As a result, European coal demand will rise for the second year in a row in 2022, the International Energy Agency said in its December report.
For many in Europe, the conflict in Ukraine put an end to speculation that gas would be used as the starting point for a coal-fired phase-out.
“Last year we saw the end of the notion of gas as a transitional fuel,” said Radan Kanev, a Bulgarian Conservative MEP. Rather, “transitional fuels are traditional fuels,” he added of growing demand for coal last year to replace Russian gas.
However, the recovery of the coal industry in Europe is expected to be short-lived, notes Euractiv. Given the growing pressure from the EU to meet climate targets and achieve zero emissions by 2050, the industry assumes that coal will completely disappear from the EU’s electricity supply over the next decade.
“If you think about it, this means that the electricity sector should reach net zero as early as 2035,” says Roger Miesen of German energy company RWE. In other words, European coal production was expected to drop “to practically zero in the 2030s,” he explained.
However, the phasing out of coal also means that alternative clean electricity generation capacity is being built up in parallel to replace it. This aspect is often overlooked in the public debate, which focuses mainly on the need to phase out coal without considering the availability of alternatives, Miesen said.
“From our point of view, this is not the right discussion,” he said, adding, “it is even dangerous to do it, because you can get problems with security of supply.”
“The right discussion is how we can offer alternatives. When there are alternatives, coal will go anyway,” says Roger Mizen. But if alternatives are not created quickly enough, the energy transition may simply “not happen,” he warned.
Another key question is whether coal will be required to provide so-called “ancillary services” to the electricity grid, such as creating a “backup” of renewables in case they are unavailable.
“These services will not be a by-product; someone has to ensure that they are provided or we will be knocked out,” warns Alvarez.
In this context, Euracoal Secretary General Brian Ricketts warned against attempts by the gas industry to secure government subsidies to build new gas-fired power plants as a renewable energy backup.
“Gas companies are demanding subsidies to build these plants,” which is “absolutely surprising” given the current geopolitical instability with gas, Ricketts told EURACTIV. require new investment.
Meanwhile, the European Union’s withdrawal from Russian energy sources after the start of the conflict in Ukraine will not last forever. This, according to CNBC, was announced by the Minister of Energy of Qatar during an energy conference in mid-January.
“Europeans today are saying we will never go back” to buying Russian gas, Saad Sherida al-Kaabi, Qatari energy minister and head of the state gas company QatarEnergy, told an energy forum in Abu Dhabi.
“We are all blessed to be able to forget and forgive. And I think things will get better with time… they learn from this situation and probably have a lot more variety [потребления энергии]“, said the Qatari.
According to CNBC, EU countries have sharply reduced imports of Russian energy products by imposing sanctions in response to Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine. Gas exports from Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom to the EU and Switzerland have fallen by 55% in 2022, the company said earlier this month. Reducing imports has dramatically increased energy costs in Europe, forcing oil and gas leaders and executives to work hard to develop new energy sources and strengthen alternative supplies.
“But Russian gas will return, in my opinion, to Europe,” predicts Saad Sherida al-Kaabi.
Europe managed to avert a major crisis this winter thanks to mild weather and significant gas reserves built up over the past year. But energy officials and analysts are warning of a more dangerous situation in late 2023 when those supplies run out.
“Fortunately they have [Европы] there was no very high demand for gas due to warmer weather, al-Kaabi said. “The problem is what happens when they want to replenish their storage in the coming year and there isn’t much gas on the market until 2025, 2026, 2027… So I think the situation will be unstable for some time.” .