The amount of electricity generated from coal plants around the world is on track to drop by a record 3% in 2019, analysis suggests.
Assessment of monthly electricity data from countries worldwide indicates a fall of around 300 terawatt hours from coal in 2019 – more than the combined output from coal power in Germany, Spain and the UK last year.
The drop in coal power – a key source of greenhouse gas pollution – in 2019 compared to 2018 raises the prospect the world could see a slowing-down in the growth of global carbon emissions in 2019.
But global coal use and carbon emissions remain far higher than the level needed to meet international targets under the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rises and prevent the worst impacts of climate change, the analysis published on climate and energy website Carbon Brief warns.
The global fall in electricity production from coal, which is based on analysis for the first seven to 10 months of 2019, comes after decades of mostly rising levels of coal power.
It is down in part to record reductions in developed countries including Germany, the EU as a whole and South Korea, the analysis by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air and the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis finds.
The biggest reduction is taking place in the US, despite support for coal power by President Donald Trump, as several large power plants close.
The EU saw a 19% year-on-year decline in coal-fired power generation in the first half of 2019 and that looks to be accelerating to around 23% for the year as a whole, with around half that fall down to wind and solar and half to gas.
There has also been a sharp turnaround in electricity generation from coal in India, where coal power output is set to fall for the first time in several decades, amid slowing power demand and growth in other sources.
China, the world’s biggest coal producer, consumer and importer, has seen the growth in power demand slow up in 2019, and strong nuclear, wind and hydropower generation meeting most of the increased need for electricity.
While new coal plants are still being added to the grid at a rate of one large plant every two weeks, the first contracts for wind and solar plants to generate power at the same price of coal will see renewables online in 2020 that are as cheap as the fossil fuel.
While coal generation continues to increase in south-east Asia, demand from these countries is small compared to the global total, the analysis said.
Globally, the combination of rapid increases in non-fossil fuel sources of power, carbon pricing which puts a cost on pollution, the retiring of coal plants, and economic growth slowdown are pointing towards coal-fired power generation experiencing a record year-on-year decline in 2019.