Global Coal Exports and Power Generation Reach New Record Highs in 2023

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ten data blog19-01-2024

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Global coal power generation reached a record high in 2023 and power coal exports exceeded 1 billion tons for the first time, as coal use continues to grow fossil fuels despite widespread efforts to cut coal use in power systems.


Coal-fired generation stood at 8,295 terawatt-hours (TWh) through October, up 1 percent from the same period in 2022 and the highest level on record, according to environmental think tank Ember.


Kpler Ship Tracker data showed that power coal exports for the year totaled 1,004 million tons, an increase of 62.5 million tons, or 6.6 percent, from 2022.


Emissions from coal-fired power generation also reached a record high of more than 7.85 billion tons of carbon dioxide and equivalent gases as of October 2023, an increase of approximately 66.7 million tons from the same period in 2022, according to Ember.


The continued growth in coal use and emissions serves as a clear reminder to climate trackers that highly polluting power fuels remain an integral part of critical power systems, despite the deployment of solar, wind, and other clean energy sources at record rates.



The Increasing Concentration of Asian

Coal mining and export and its use for electricity generation are overwhelmingly concentrated in Asia, while many other parts of the world, including Europe and North America, have taken steps to phase out coal generation.


But even as the geographic areas of coal use and trade are shrinking, direct mining, exports and consumption by power plants are still trending upwards.


Indonesia is the largest exporter of power coal in 2023, exporting a record 505.4 million tons for the year, an increase of 54 million tons, or 12 percent, over 2022 levels.


For the first time, Indonesia accounted for more than half of all power coal shipments in a calendar year in 2023, according to Kpler data.


Australia is the second largest exporter of power coal, exporting 198 million tons, an increase of 12.5 million tons (7%) from the previous year.


Russia, South Africa and Colombia are also notable exporters, exporting 103 million tons, 60 million tons and 51 million tons respectively last year.


On the import side, China was the largest buyer of power coal, receiving a record 325 million tons of power coal, an increase of 109 million tons over the 2022 total.


India was the second largest importer (172 million tons), followed by Japan (109 million tons), South Korea (80 million tons) and Taiwan (51 million tons).


Other notable importers included the Philippines (37 million tons) and Vietnam (31 million tons), both of which saw strong double-digit year-on-year growth in imports.



Locking in a Generation

In the major coal-importing countries, coal-fired generation increased year-on-year in China, India, the Philippines, Turkey and Vietnam, according to Ember data.


Coal-fired production fell 8.2% in Japan and 4% in South Korea, but these declines were nearly offset by growth in coal-fired production in Vietnam last year alone.


According to Ember, about 82% of global coal-fired power generation occurs in Asia by 2023, up from an average of about 75% in 2019.


Asia's share of coal use and imports should continue to climb as other regions further reduce coal consumption.


However, total coal imports and power generation consumption in Asia also appear set to continue to climb, particularly in major fast-growing economies such as China, India, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia, where cheap power remains critical to the competitiveness of their industries.


These countries are also committed to significantly increasing the deployment of renewable energy, but in the short term they seem equally likely to continue to push total coal use and emissions to even higher levels.


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