Both solar and wind power electricity has so undercut the cost of thermal coal that even American coal producers agree the original fossil fuel's days are winding down.
Around three-quarters of US coal production is now more expensive than solar and wind energy in providing electricity to American households, according to a new study.
“Even without major policy shift we will continue to see coal retire pretty rapidly,” said Mike O’Boyle, the co-author of the report for Energy Innovation, a renewables analysis firm. “Our analysis shows that we can move a lot faster to replace coal with wind and solar. The fact that so much coal could be retired right now shows we are off the pace.”
...Coal plants have suffered due to rising maintenance costs, including requirements to install pollution controls. Meanwhile, the cost of solar and wind has plummeted as the technology has improved. Cheap and abundant natural gas, as well as the growth of renewables, has hit coal demand, with the EIA reporting in January that half of all US coalmines have shut down over the past decade.
“Coal is on its way out,” said Curtis Morgan, the chief executive of Vistra Energy, a major Texas-based coal plant owner. “More and more plants are being retired.”There are two main varieties of coal: thermal coal that is burned to produce electricity and metallurgical or coking coal that is needed to produce iron and steel.
In Canada, thermal and metallurgical coal are produced in roughly equal amounts. More than 90 per cent of our coal exports to the US is metallurgical coal.
Even metallurgical coal may be phased out as more electric arc furnaces come on line in steel smelters.