At least 15 countries have joined an international alliance

to phase out coal use for power generation before 2030.

Britain, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Italy, France, the
Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium, Switzerland, New Zealand, Ethiopia, Mexico and
the Marshall Islands have joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance.

The alliance aims to have 50 members by the next UN climate
summit in 2018.

The alliance further problematizes the future of coal as a
fuel for power generation and, by extension, some aspects of its bulk

That being said, some of the world’s biggest coal users –
China, the United States, Germany and Russia – are not signatories to the

China is pressing ahead with its own plans to cut coal use
and reduce pollution from the fuel. Research suggests China will invest as much
as $780bn in alternative energy by 2030. The country has already switched
millions of households to natural gas heating from coal.

In spite of Trump’s effort to bolster the American coal
industry, US coal use for power generation is falling. Last year, the fuel accounted
for around 30% of the US’s energy mix for power generation. The figure is
expected to fall below 25% in 2018.

Wind and solar power account for 10% of all US electricity
generation and their use is growing rapidly. The automotive industry has also
been working in earnest to bring electric cars to the mass market.

New players
While the Powering Past Coal Alliance aims to end reliance on
coal for power generation, new research suggests developing nations have no
such intention.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects some 100 GW of
new coal-fired capacity to be built in Southeast Asia by 2040, of which 40% of
new capacity will be in Indonesia.

Southeast Asia will become a net coal importer by 2040,
according to IEA estimates. Production in the region is forecast to fall during
the period, while its import demand will rise 3.7% per annum to 387 mtce, the
agency said.

Vietnam, which recently overtook Thailand as the
second-largest coal consumer in Southeast Asia, will become the largest
regional importer by 2040, the IEA said.

The Indian government has been working to reduce the
country’s coal imports, which fell between May and August this year. However,
India imported 16.8m tonnes of coal in October, up from 16.1m in September.

The petroleum coke ban has been a contributor to this trend,
as has steady demand for coal in power generation and steel manufacturing.

New Delhi banned the burning of petcoke on November 1st
in an effort to curb air pollution from the fuel. Ironically, the ban means
that users are switching to burning coal and more of it. Thermal coal has lower
energy value than petcoke, meaning higher volumes need to be burned in order to
achieve the same energy yield.

New research published this week by the Institute for Energy
Economics and Financial Analysis predicts that India will reach peak thermal
coal demand within the next decade. The country is expected to significantly
increase its share of renewable energy generation, which will gradually displace
coal use.

Matter of time
It’s just a matter of time before Indian authorities take
more drastic steps to limit coal burning and pollution, most probably through
renewable energies.

It won’t be long before the hundreds of billions of dollars
that China is investing in renewables begin to effect meaningful change on the country’s
energy mix for power generation.

Is it safe to guess that renewable energies will ultimately
prove to be a bigger money-spinner than America’s beleaguered coal industry?

Whenever we talk about coal, it always seems inevitable that
any bullishness will be short-lived. The world has changed.

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