Our attempts to become independent from coal have run into an unexpected enemy: the war in Ukraine and all its consequences in the economic and energy field. Against the backdrop of skyrocketing gas prices and the declared goal of reducing reliance on Russian supplies, European power plants have turned to using the dirtiest fossil fuels.
According to Fraunhofer ISE data collected by Bloomberg, last week, the second since the start of the war in Ukraine, plants on the continent burned close to 51% more sedimentary rock which just a year ago. From 3,614 GWh in the week of February 9, 2021 we have gone, in this, to 5,468 GWh. The increase coincided with a decline in gas demand.
alternatives to gas
The data is largely explained by the price of coal, which, although it has risen, remains at more competitive values than gas. Result: plants find it even more profitable to burn coal to generate electricity. Beyond the evolution of prices, the European Union has set itself the objective of reducing dependence on gas from Russia by two thirds before the end of the year and ending imports by 2030.
To achieve this, Brussels plans to increase the import of liquefied natural gas from other countries, such as the United States, Egypt, Qatar, Algeria or Norway —which will require improving transportation and storage— and stepping on the accelerator of renewables. Another of the tricks on the table, as you can see, is burning coal. Fossil fuel offers a direct alternative and above all quick to meet energy demand and find an alternative to Russian gas.
Only a few months ago, in October, Europe already turned to coal to deal with the energy crisis. Its production soared and the ton reached 270 dollars. The reality is that, despite efforts to curtail its use, there are still European countries that rely heavily on it. In Germany, for example, a year ago it represented 27% of energy generation.
Interestingly, Russia is a crucial source for Europe in both gas and coal supplies. Of the around 500,000 million cubic meters of gas that Europe consumes each year, 40% come from the federation led by Vladimir Putin. As for coal, about a third of what was consumed in Europe in 2020 came from Russia. The country still sent shipments last week to some European states and companies are looking new providers of fossil fuel, such as Colombia, South Africa, Australia, Indonesia or the United States.
That more coal is being burned is bad news for the environment and the ecological policies approved by the Union itself, which has set itself the goal of achieving zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. By the end of 2021, the International Agency of Energy (AIE) already calculated that the year would close with a 9% increase in energy generated with coal, percentages that rose in the case of the EU and the US, which registered 20% hikes in the use of fossil fuel. The increase was then related to a different scenario, marked by the recovery of the economy after the pandemic and the rise in gas prices.
According to a report published in 2019 by IEA experts, coal was behind at least 40% of electricity generation. Its environmental footprint is just as impressive: it produces approximately 46% of global carbon emissions.
Cover Image | Dominik Vanyi (Unsplash) and Chris LeBoutillier (Unsplash)
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism