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Coal Power

Photographer: Michele Tantussi/Bloomberg
Updated on

The world is still addicted to coal. It’s one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions and a key driver of climate change. But it’s also abundant, easy to transport and convenient to store. The power and heat it generates have helped lift millions of people out of poverty. Developing countries, notably India and China, say access to cheap electricity from coal is crucial to economic growth. Despite widespread calls to curb usage, the fuel is so entrenched that global consumption increased slightly in 2017 and 2018, reversing two years of modest declines. Coal is the world’s biggest source of electricity, generating almost 40 percent of it, and demand is expected to remain steady for decades. 

Coal’s dominance is sustained largely by its widespread use in Asia. China, the world’s largest consumer of coal, tripled its use from 2010 through 2017, while India, the No. 2 user, more than doubled the amount it burned. India’s consumption is expected to rise by another quarter by the end of 2023, while China’s is projected to fall almost 3 percent, in part because of the country’s ambitious clean energy plans. In the U.S. and Europe, coal is in decline. U.S. President Donald Trump has attempted to revive the industry by easing regulations. But the country’s utilities are facing growing public opposition to coal and state policies limiting its use. California, for example, passed a law in 2018 to phase out the burning of fossil fuels to generate power by 2045. At the same time, cheap gas and renewable energy are providing competitive alternatives. U.S. power providers shuttered coal plants at a record rate in 2018, and electricity generated from coal has fallen more than 40 percent in the past decade. The story is similar in Europe, where efforts to battle climate change dragged consumption down by 28 percent from 2010 through 2017. Through his philanthropy, Michael R. Bloomberg, the founder and majority stakeholder of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, supports efforts around the world aimed at replacing coal power with cleaner alternatives.