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Coal emerges as global player

| Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, 5:42 p.m.

Coal is poised to become the most-used fuel for power generators through the rest of this decade, undermining targets for cutting greenhouse gases even as prices rebound from a four-year low.

About 434 gigawatts of coal-power capacity will be added globally by 2020, compared with 241 gigawatts for gas and 92 gigawatts of nuclear generation, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

As more than 200 ministers and executives gather in South Korea for the World Energy Congress this week, the biggest economies are finding a resurgence in demand for coal.

“Many people forgot about coal,” Maria Van der Hoeven, executive director of the International Energy Agency, said in Bangkok. “Coal is really emerging as a fuel of choice because of its abundance and affordability.”

Utilities including Huaneng Power International Inc. in Beijing and NTPC Ltd. in New Delhi are among companies in 59 nations planning to build 1,401 gigawatts of coal-fired stations, according to the World Resources Institute. China and India account for 76 percent of planned new generation, equal to the entire current capacity of the United States, according to the institute.

Indonesia is the largest coal exporter.

Newcastle coal prices will rise to $91 a ton in 2015 and $95 in 2016, according to the median of analyst forecasts compiled by Bloomberg.

“Coal prices will be in an upward trend in the long term, supported by rising demand globally,” said Helen Lau, an analyst with UOB Kay Hian. “Coal will remain economically competitive as a stable source of power.”

Coal is the source for about three-quarters of capacity being built in Southeast Asia, where energy demand is forecast to almost double in the next two decades as coal consumption triples, the IEA said in an Oct. 2 report.

New technology that cracks open shale rock has unleashed record amounts of natural gas in the United States, freeing up coal for export to Europe. Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power Co., the largest coal consumer in the country, predicts the fuel will account for less than half its generation capacity in 2016, down from 60 percent this year.

The shale gas revolution can't be replicated elsewhere, according to Van der Hoeven. Geological and logistical constraints mean China's output won't be significant before 2020, she said.

Coal will be at least 30 percent cheaper than natural gas for electricity generators in Southeast Asia, according to the IEA.

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