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Global renewables rise from the ashes of coal's collapse

15 June 2017

In the USA, coal has been crowded out in power generation by cheaper, cleaner gas from the fracking boom and even United States coal executives believe Donald Trump's promise to bring back jobs in the industry can not succeed.

Worldwide coal consumption fell for the second consecutive year, to its lowest level since 2004, according to Big Oil company BP's June 2017 Statistical Review of World Energy. Germany, Europe's biggest user, consumed 4.3 percent less coal.

And while Trump is proposing to gut clean energy funding by a staggering 70 percent, the world saw the largest jump ever in renewable power production a year ago. Coal consumption in the USA fell almost 9% in 2016 and nearly 2% in China, the world's largest producer and consumer of the commodity.

Spencer Dale, the oil giant's chief economist, highlighted the "stark" reversal in fortunes of the fuel source, which has been driven by declines in China and the U.S., as arguably the most striking feature in its annual statistical review of world energy, published yesterday.

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Structural, long-term factors are behind the shift, BP Chief Economist Spencer Dale says, including "the increasing availability and competitiveness of natural gas and renewable energy, combined with mounting government and societal pressure to shift away from coal towards cleaner, lower-carbon fuels".

China, which accounts for about half of the coal burned in the world, used 1.6% less of the fuel, compared with an average 3.7% annual expansion in the 11 preceding years.

Gas saw similar growth to oil.

Thus, in the years 2005 - 2015 coal consumption had grown by an average annual rate of 1.9%.

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The period was the lowest three-year average for emissions growth since 1981 to 1983, BP said.

British coal consumption fell by 52.5% in 2016 and the trend away from the fuel has continued this year, with the first coal-free day since the 19th century. BP, as a major producer of natural gas, stands to gain from less production of an energy source such as coal. In the United Kingdom, coal supply and demand plummeted to levels not seen since the start of the Industrial Revolution, almost 200 years ago.

While providing only 4% of total primary energy, renewables represented nearly a third of the total growth in energy demand in 2016.

Still, there needs to be a "significant fall" in emissions in order to meet the Paris climate goals, Dale said. China is vowing to invest $361 billion in renewables by 2020, yet the Trump administration is doubling down on fossil fuel production, all while criticizing China for not doing enough to control its emissions.

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BP said oil consumption continued to rise at a strong pace in 2016, up 1.6% in 2016, which was above the 10-year average. But slowing demand meant that global oil production witnessed its slowest growth since 2013.

Global renewables rise from the ashes of coal's collapse