Coal holds its ground

Energodigest | 14 December 2023
One of the key issues brought to the table at the 28th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) in Dubai is the transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems, including by ‘accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power.’[1]

Yet the one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for coal, as it remains the dominant energy source for electricity in many countries, including India. So India, understandably, has not signed the Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge,[2] which includes a commitment to end the continued investment in new coal-fired power plants. Meanwhile, a total of 123 nations have joined the pledge to triple the world’s installed renewable energy generation capacity to at least 11,000 GW by 2030.

India, in turn, has committed to cover half of its electricity needs with renewable sources by 2030 and to end its reliance on fossil fuels by 2070. Amid these pledges, the nation’s power demand logged a healthy rise in the four months ending in November of this year and is set to grow by at least 6% annually till the end of the decade. Faced with this rampant growth, the Indian government is pinning its hopes on thermal coal as the only source that can meet the demand, considering that coal-fired thermal power plants generated as much as 74.3% of India’s electricity in 2022[3] (see Fig. 1), with this percentage dropping only marginally, to 73.6%, between January and October.
India has to ramp up coal output to ensure the sustainable operation of its energy system (see Fig. 2). In the first 11 months of 2023, India’s total coal production increased 12.3% YoY to 875.7 million tonnes,[4] and the government has recently unveiled plans to triple underground coal mining to 100 million tonnes a year[5] to offset depletion at open-cast mines.

The example of India shows how hard it will be to find the right route to a green future, as for many countries coal has been the only reliable source of sustained energy production.
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