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Has Coronavirus helped accelerate the movement away from coal?

Posted on 04/06/2020

As the list of global commodities struggling during the pandemic continues to grow, it seems that coal is the latest to be added. Though prices haven’t turned negative, it’s apparent that coronavirus is accelerating the demise of the dirtiest fossil fuel.

Social distancing measures have meant that energy demand has fallen across the board, and as coal power is currently more expensive than gas and renewables in much of the world, it explains why its share in the electricity mix has fallen in Europe, India, China and parts of the US.

Major improvements in air quality

As the demand for coal has slowed and the effects of the global lockdowns are being felt, it’s been encouraging to see how quickly the pollution levels have dropped and the skies have cleared. As an example, in Delhi, India the authorities had deemed air quality had reached ‘unbearable levels’ less than six months ago. Schools were closed, flights were diverted, and people were asked to wear masks, avoid polluted areas and keep doors and windows closed.

And it’s now hoped that the experience of blue skies and fresh air could be the trigger needed to create a democratic demand for fresh clean air in India, and across the world. As it currently stands, coal is currently generating 0% of Britain’s power and the country has been on a 55-day coal-free run – and it’s though that this is partly due to the reduced demand for electricity during the coronavirus lockdown.

Is coronavirus the catalyst we’ve been waiting for?

We’ve never had a better chance to make a greener world, as covid has delivered unusual environmental benefits. Europe offers a prime example of how lockdown and the lower demand for electricity can be harnessed to manage coal’s exit systematically.

In the past month, Austria and Sweden announced that they’ve shut their last coal-fired power plants – they’ve now joined Albania, Belgium, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Norway as countries without coal in their electricity mix.

Britain’s dwindling fleet of coal plants still includes the West Burton A and Ratcliffe-on-Soar power stations in Nottinghamshire, the Kilroot facility in Northern Ireland and two generation units at the Drax site in Yorkshire, which are earmarked for conversion to burn gas.

As LNG cargoes remain low in price, and the clearer air thanks to country-wide lockdowns continues to be appreciated, we have a feeling that the current global circumstances could come together to accelerate the transition to gas-powered energy – it’s certainly something we’ll be keeping a close eye on.


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