A new report paints a dire picture for the future of the coal industry, projecting the traditional energy’s share of the electricity market will fall dramatically as renewables take its place.
An analysis released Monday by Bloomberg New Energy Finance did not offer promising news for the coal industry. The New Energy Outlook 2018 report predicts generation from coal will plummet more than 70 percent over the next three decades, compared to current levels. Renewables, on the other hand, were projected to make tremendous gains in the years to come, eventually taking up 50 percent of the world’s electricity market share by 2050.
“Coal emerges as the biggest loser in the long run,” Elena Giannakopoulou, head of energy economics at BNEF, said in a statement. “Beaten on cost by wind and PV for bulk electricity generation, and by batteries and gas for flexibility, the future electricity system will reorganize around cheap renewables.”
A major factor in renewable energy’s expected rise is the falling cost of battery storage. Currently, renewable sources such as wind and solar are plagued with unreliability — solar panels can only produce energy when the sun is shining and wind turbines only work when the wind is blowing. Battery storage helps renewables become more viable, storing excess energy for later use. Battery technology, however, is very expensive and mostly untenable for utilization on a mass scale.
The New Energy Outlook report predicts battery storage costs to decrease dramatically, all to the benefit of wind and solar.
“We see $548 billion being invested in battery capacity by 2050 … The arrival of cheap battery storage will mean that it becomes increasingly possible to finesse the delivery of electricity from wind and solar, so that these technologies can help meet demand even when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining,” wrote Seb Henbest in the report. “The result will be renewables eating up more and more of the existing market for coal, gas and nuclear.” (RELATED: Hundreds Of Workers Impacted As Michigan Coal Plant Braces For Closure)
Much of this growth in renewables will be due to heavy investments. The report states that, between 2018 and 2050, a total of $11.5 trillion will be invested in new power generation capacity around the world. The wind and solar industries will receive $8.4 trillion of these investments, and another $1.5 trillion will go toward hydropower and nuclear.
Coal — which currently provides 38 percent of the world’s electricity generation — will only make up an 11 percent share by 2050, according to the report. The analysis reflects current trends taking place in the energy industry as coal — and nuclear — face competition from alternative sources of power, stringent government regulations and environmentalist campaigns seeking their downfall.
There were 580 coal-fired plants throughout the U.S. in 2010, producing 45 percent of the country’s electricity. Eight years later, fewer than 350 plants remain in operation, accounting for only 30 percent of total U.S. electricity production. At least another 40 coal plants are projected to scale back capacity or close entirely by 2025.
These trends have prompted President Donald Trump to come forward with a rescue plan to keep at-risk coal and nuclear plants from closure.
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