Close to US$1 trillion will be “wasted” on new coal-fired power plants currently in the development pipeline, a report says, despite the carbon-heavy fuel’s falling popularity, declining economics, and the fact that the same sum would be more than enough to eliminate global energy poverty.
In Boom and Bust 2016: Tracking the Global Coal Plant Pipeline, the Sierra Club, CoalSwarm, and Greenpeace estimate that US$981 billion will be spent on some 1,500 coal-fired power stations now being developed worldwide, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. That amount, the groups note, is more than 1½ times what the International Energy Agency (IEA) calculates it would cost to provide access to sufficient, affordable, secure energy to everyone everywhere on Earth.
The groups identified 338 gigawatts of new coal-fired generating capacity under construction worldwide, with another 1,086 GW planned. They warned that those investments will be “potentially wasted” as coal is pushed aside by renewable energy.
The study said coal oversupply was especially marked in China, where “the utilization of coal plants dropped to 49.4% [in 2015], the lowest since 1968, with a further decline expected this year.”
“While the amount of electricity generated from coal has declined for two years in a row,” the Sierra Club’s Nicole Ghio commented, “the industry has ignored this trend and continues to build new coal-fired generating plants at a rapid pace, creating an increasingly severe capacity bubble.”
For its part, the IEA continues to forecast coal use to rise for at least the next five years, despite declining in 2014 for the first time this century.