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All the World’s Coal Power Plants in One Map

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All The World’s Coal Power Plants in One Map

The use of coal for fuel dates back thousands of years.

Demand for the energy source really started to soar during the Industrial Revolution, and it continues to power some of the world’s largest economies today. However, as the clean energy revolution heats up, will coal continue to be a viable option?

Today’s data visualization from Carbon Brief maps the changing number of global coal power plants operating between 2000 and 2018. The interactive timeline pulls from the Global Coal Plant Tracker’s latest data and features around 10,000 retired, operating, and planned coal units, totaling close to 3,000 gigawatts (GW) of capacity across 95 countries.

On the map, each circular icon’s size represents each plant’s coal capacity in megawatts (MW). The data also highlights the type of coal burned and the CO₂ emissions produced as a result.

A Precarious Power Source

Throughout its history, coal has been used for everything from domestic heating and steel manufacturing, to railways, gas works, and electricity. The fuel played a pivotal role in powering economic development, and had a promising future with a flurry of plant openings.

However, in 2016, coal output dropped by 231 million tons of oil equivalent (Mtoe). Combined with a rapid slowdown of new plants being built, total coal units operating around the world fell for the first time in 2018.

With the remaining fleet of plants operating fewer hours than ever, plant closures have been triggered in South Africa, India, and China—steadily eroding coal’s bottom line. Industry trends have also forced a wave of coal companies to recently declare bankruptcy, including giants such as Peabody Energy and Alpha Natural.

Can Coal Compete with Clean Energy?

Today, coal is experiencing fierce competition from low-priced natural gas and ever-cheaper renewable power—most notably from wind and solar. Further, solar power costs will continue to decline each year and be cut in half by 2020, relative to 2015 figures.

chart

Source: Lazard

Natural gas surpassed coal as America’s #1 power source in 2016, with the total share of power generated from coal tumbling from 45% in 2010 to 28% in 2018. By next year, the role of coal is expected to be further reduced to 24% of the mix.

On the interactive visualization, the decline of coal is especially evident in 2018 as plant closures sweep across the map. The chart shows how several countries, notably China and India, have been closing many hundreds of smaller, older, and less efficient units, but replacing them with larger and more efficient models.

As of today, China retains the largest fleet of coal plants, consuming a staggering 45% of the world’s coal.


Use the above slider to see the difference between China’s coal plants in 2000 with projected future capacity.

Towards a New Reality

Coal is the most carbon intensive fossil fuel, and for every tonne of coal burned there are approximately 2.5 tonnes of carbon emissions. The International Energy Agency states that all unabated coal must be phased out within a few decades if global warming is to be limited.

Despite these warnings, global coal demand is set to remain stable for the next five years, with declines in the U.S. and Europe offset by immediate growth in India and China. The latter are the main players in the global coal market, but will eventually see a gradual decline in demand as they move away from industrialization.

A total phaseout of unabated coal is planned by 14 of the world’s 78 coal-powered countries, with many of these countries working to convert coal capacity to natural gas.

As the price of premium solar generation drops steadily, and innovation in renewable energy technology becomes more prominent, the world is shifting its attention to a clean energy economy. A global revival of coal looks less and less likely—and the fossil fuel might very well one day become obsolete.

Editor’s Note: The map uses WebGL and will not work on some older browsers. The map may also fail to load if you are using an ad-blocking browser plugin.

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Chart of the Week

Visualizing the Biggest Risks to the Global Economy in 2020

The Global Risk Report 2020 paints an unprecedented risk landscape for 2020—one dominated by climate change and other environmental concerns.

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Top Risks in 2020: Dominated by Environmental Factors

Environmental concerns are a frequent talking point drawn upon by politicians and scientists alike, and for good reason. Irrespective of economic or social status, climate change has the potential to affect us all.

While public urgency surrounding climate action has been growing, it can be difficult to comprehend the potential extent of economic disruption that environmental risks pose.

Front and Center

Today’s chart uses data from the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Risks Report, which surveyed 800 leaders from business, government, and non-profits to showcase the most prominent economic risks the world faces.

According to the data in the report, here are the top five risks to the global economy, in terms of their likelihood and potential impact:

Top Global Risks (by "Likelihood") Top Global Risks (by "Impact")
#1Extreme weather#1Climate action failure
#2Climate action failure#2Weapons of mass destruction
#3Natural disasters#3Biodiversity loss
#4Biodiversity loss#4Extreme weather
#5Humanmade environmental disasters#5Water crises

With more emphasis being placed on environmental risks, how much do we need to worry?

According to the World Economic Forum, more than we can imagine. The report asserts that, among many other things, natural disasters are becoming more intense and more frequent.

While it can be difficult to extrapolate precisely how environmental risks could cascade into trouble for the global economy and financial system, here are some interesting examples of how they are already affecting institutional investors and the insurance industry.

The Stranded Assets Dilemma

If the world is to stick to its 2°C global warming threshold, as outlined in the Paris Agreement, a significant amount of oil, gas, and coal reserves would need to be left untouched. These assets would become “stranded”, forfeiting roughly $1-4 trillion from the world economy.

Growing awareness of this risk has led to a change in sentiment. Many institutional investors have become wary of their portfolio exposures, and in some cases, have begun divesting from the sector entirely.

The financial case for fossil fuel divestment is strong. Fossil fuel companies once led the economy and world stock markets. They now lag.

– Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis

The last couple of years have been a game-changer for the industry’s future prospects. For example, 2018 was a milestone year in fossil fuel divestment:

  • Nearly 1,000 institutional investors representing $6.24 trillion in assets have pledged to divest from fossil fuels, up from just $52 billion four years ago;
  • Ireland became the first country to commit to fossil fuel divestment. At the time of announcement, its sovereign development fund had $10.4 billion in assets;
  • New York City became the largest (but not the first) city to commit to fossil fuel divestment. Its pension funds, totaling $189 billion at the time of announcement, aim to divest over a 5-year period.

A Tough Road Ahead

In a recent survey, actuaries ranked climate change as their top risk for 2019, ahead of damages from cyberattacks, financial instability, and terrorism—drawing strong parallels with the results of this year’s Global Risk Report.

These growing concerns are well-founded. 2017 was the costliest year on record for natural disasters, with $344 billion in global economic losses. This daunting figure translated to a record year for insured losses, totalling $140 billion.

Although insured losses over 2019 have fallen back in line with the average over the past 10 years, Munich RE believes that long-term environmental effects are already being felt:

  • Recent studies have shown that over the long term, the environmental conditions for bushfires in Australia have become more favorable;
  • Despite a decrease in U.S. wildfire losses compared to previous years, there is a rising long-term trend for forest area burned in the U.S.;
  • An increase in hailstorms, as a result of climate change, has been shown to contribute to growing losses across the globe.

The Ball Is In Our Court

It’s clear that the environmental issues we face are beginning to have a larger real impact. Despite growing awareness and preliminary actions such as fossil fuel divestment, the Global Risk Report stresses that there is much more work to be done to mitigate risks.

How companies and governments choose to respond over the next decade will be a focal point of many discussions to come.

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Energy

The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns

Which individual commodities were the best performers in 2019, and how do those numbers compare to the past decade of data?

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The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns 2019

In 2019, every major asset class finished in the black.

And although the broad commodity market finished up 17.6% on the year, the performances of individual commodities were all over the map. For those familiar with the sector, that’s pretty much par for the course.

That said, the lack of an obvious correlation in commodity markets also makes for a thought-provoking and humbling exercise: comparing the annual returns of commodities against the data from the past decade.

A Decade of Commodities (2010-2019)

Today’s visualization comes to us from U.S. Global Investors, and it compares individual commodity returns between 2010 and 2019.

You can use the interactive tool on their website to toggle between various settings for the table of commodity returns, such as breaking them down by category (i.e. energy, precious metals, etc.), by best and worst performers, or by volatility over the time period.

Let’s dive into the data to see what trends we can uncover.

Palladium: The Best Commodity, Three Years Straight

In 2019, palladium finished as the best performing commodity for the third straight year — this time, with a 54.2% return.

Palladium top performing commodity

You could have bought the precious metal for about $400/oz in early 2010, when it was a fraction of the price of either gold or platinum.

Nowadays, thanks to the metal’s ability to reduce harmful car emissions and an uncertain supply situation, palladium trades for above $2,000/oz — making it more expensive per ounce than both gold and platinum.

Oil and Gas: Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

As key energy commodities, oil and natural gas have an inherent connection to one another.

However, in 2019, the two commodities had completely diverging performances:

Palladium top performing commodity

Crude oil prices gained 34.5% on the year, making it one of the best commodities for investors — meanwhile, natural gas went the opposite direction, dropping 25.5% on the year. This actually cements gas as the worst performing major commodity of the decade.

“That’s Gold, Jerry!”

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that gold and silver had a bounceback year.

Gold gained 18.3% to finish with the best return the yellow metal has seen in a decade. Silver followed suit with a similar story, rallying 15.2% over the calendar year.

Gold and silver performance

Precious metals now sit at multi-year highs against an interesting economic and geopolitical backdrop to start 2020.

Where do you see the above commodities ending up on next year’s edition of the rankings?

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