UK leads worldwide transition away from coal

5th July 2017

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  • Fossil fuels



Coal consumption worldwide fell in 2016 for a second successive year, bringing its share of primary energy production to 28.1% the lowest recorded since 2004, according to a BP study.

The fall was partly due to the UK’s “extreme” move away from the energy source, with consumption more than halving last year to levels last seen at the start of the industrial revolution.

This was reflected in the country’s last three underground coal mines closing in 2016, and the power sector recording its first-ever coal-free day in April 2017.

“The speed of deterioration in the fortunes of coal over the past few years has been stark. It’s only four years ago that coal was the largest source of global demand growth,” BP group chief economist, Spencer Dale, said.

“A particularly extreme example of this long-run movement away from coal was seen in the UK, where the rise in global coal prices added to the pressure from the recent increase in the UK’s carbon price floor.”

Overall, world coal production fell by 6.2% last year – the largest annual decline on record – driven by China and the US, where it decreased by 7.9% and 19% respectively.

This coincided with renewables being the fastest growing energy source last year, now providing a share of just under 4% of primary energy worldwide.

Not including hydroelectric power, renewable energy grew by 12% last year, and although this was below the 10-year average growth rate of 15.7%, it still marked the largest annual incremental increase in output on record.

More than half of growth in renewable power came from wind, which increased by 16% last year, while solar energy represented around a third of the overall expansion in renewable power.

This was most profound in China, which became the world’s largest single producer of renewable power last year, overtaking the US, while the Asia Pacific overtook Europe and Eurasia to become the largest producing region.

“The contrasting fortunes of renewables and coal had much to do with the longer-run energy transition that is under way,” Dale continued.

“The evolution of the power sector is likely to remain a key bellwether for the pace and nature of the energy transition in coming years – so watch this space.”


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