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U.S. Coal Prices Top $200 As Global Energy Desperation Grows Before Winter

thermal coal power plant

U.S. coal prices soared past $200 per ton last week, according to new data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Spot Central Appalachia coal prices climbed to $204.95 per ton for the week ended Sept. 30, up more than 3 percent from the previous week. That’s the highest price since 2005.

Newcastle coal futures, the benchmark for Asia, touched a record high of nearly $450 per ton, before easing to around $400. [bold, links added]

Domestic coal production has been holding steady. EIA numbers show that U.S. coal output totaled 12.1 million short tons, up 1.9 percent year over year.

In addition, year-to-date coal production totaled nearly 438 million short tons, up close to 4 percent from the same time a year ago. (A short ton, or just ton in the United States, equals 2,000 pounds. A long ton, used in the UK, is 2,240 pounds.)

In 2021, coal represented more than one-fifth (22 percent) of U.S. electricity generation, behind natural gas (38.3 percent). By comparison, wind and solar accounted for just 9.2 percent and 2.8 percent, respectively, last year.

But the fuel source has been surging on strengthening global demand, particularly as the Northern Hemisphere braces for cold and snowy weather.

Global Energy Demand Crunch

S&P Global data note that total spot transaction volumes rose 22 percent in the third quarter, up from the April–June period.

In July, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projected in a market update that worldwide coal consumption would return to all-time highs in 2022.

Global coal demand is being propped up this year by rising natural gas prices, which have intensified gas-to-coal switching in many countries, as well as economic growth in India.

Those factors are being partly offset by slowing economic growth in China and by the inability of some major coal producers to ramp up production,” the IEA stated in its report.

Indeed, Chinese coal imports slumped about 15 percent year over year in August. Beijing’s zero-COVID strategy has resulted in lockdowns in multiple pockets of the country, which has weakened economic growth and applied pressure on demand for a broad array of commodities, from soybeans to crude oil to coal.

However, that’s been offset by robust European demand. In the first half of the year, coal was Germany’s largest source of energy production, representing almost 30 percent, according to confirmed data from the Institute for Energy Research (IER).

That’s a result of the European Union’s (EU) ban on Russian coal imports, forcing eurozone members to search for alternative sources.

Moscow had provided approximately 70 percent of the EU’s thermal coal prior to the restrictions. In the first seven months of 2022, Australia exported 2.9 million metric tons of coal to Europe, up 73 percent from all of 2021.

European seaborne thermal coal demand is also forecast to increase by 14 percent, or 12 million metric tons, in 2022.

“With many European nations increasing thermal coal use, an additional nine gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired capacity has been made available to meet energy demands and make up for the decline in Russian energy imports. Coal prices are surging, but they are still more affordable than record-high [natural] gas prices,” Adam Woods, Wood Mackenzie’s senior research analyst, wrote in a recent research note.

It isn’t only European households that have been struggling. The National Energy Assistance Directors Association warned that more than 20 million U.S. households are behind on their utility bills.

The organization estimates that the average cost of home heating during the winter season will rise more than 17 percent, to $1,202, the highest in a decade (pdf).

Electricity costs surged close to 16 percent on an annualized basis in August, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Thermal coal power plant image by Josep Monter Martinez from Pixabay

Read rest at Epoch Times

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