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The Decline of Coal in Three Charts

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The Decline of Coal in Three Charts

The Decline of Coal in Three Charts

How coal went from hero to zero in just five short years.

The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.

There was a time in the not so distant past that coal was the unquestioned all-star of the energy mix.

Just over a decade ago, coal-fired power generated more than 50% of U.S. electricity. Coal is cheap and found almost everywhere, but it’s also extremely easy to scale with. If you need more power, just burn more coal.

However, the decline of coal has been swift and unprecedented. That’s why it is expected that by 2020, only 22% of electricity will be generated from the fossil fuel.

What’s Behind the Decline of Coal?

While there is obvious environmental pressure on miners and utilities in the coal business, the number one coal killer is an unlikely source: hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.

These two technologies have led to a natural gas supply boom, making the United States the top natural gas producer in the world. From 2005 to 2010, natural gas mostly traded in a range between $5-10 per mcf. Today, excess supply has brought it to a range between $2-3 per mcf, making it extremely desirable for utilities.

This year, for the first time ever, natural gas has surpassed coal in use for power generation in the United States. The EIA expects natural gas and coal to make up 33% and 32% respectively in the energy mix for 2016.

How the Mighty Have Fallen

Not surprisingly, shrinking demand has led to a collapse in coal prices.

The decrease in revenues have slashed margins, and now equity in some of the biggest coal miners in the world is almost worthless. Similar to some oil and gas companies, many coal miners accumulated major debt loads when prices were high and demand seemed sustainable.

Now major US coal miners such as Peabody Energy and ArchCoal have been obliterated:

 201120142016
Total$44.6 billion$10.6 billion$0.045 billion
Peabody$19.7 billion$7 billion$0.030 billion
Arch Coal$6.0 billion$1 billion$0.006 billion
Alpha Natural$10.7 billion$1.6 billion$0.003 billion
Walter Energy$8.2 billion$1 billion$0.006 billion

The top four miners have lost over $44 billion in market capitalization from their recent peaks in 2011.

That’s an astonishing 99.9% decrease in value, and possibly exemplifies the decline of coal better than anything else.

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Chart of the Week

The Future of 5G: Comparing 3 Generations of Wireless Technology

See how 5G compares to older iterations of wireless technology, and why it’s poised to change the way the modern world uses data.

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The Future of 5G: Comparing 3 Generations of Wireless Technology

Wireless technology has evolved rapidly since the turn of the century. From voice-only 2G capabilities and internet-enabled 3G, today’s ecosystem of wireless activity is founded on the reliable connection of 4G.

Fifth-generation wireless network technology, better known as 5G, is now being rolled out in major cities worldwide. By 2024, an estimated 1.5 billion mobile users─which account for 40% of current global activity─will be using 5G wireless networks.

Today’s chart highlights three generations of wireless technology in the 21st century, and the differences between 3G, 4G, and 5G networks.

5G: The Next Great Thing?

With over 5 billion mobile users worldwide, our world is growing more connected than ever.

Data from GSMA Intelligence shows how rapidly global traffic could grow across different networks:

  • 2018: 43% of mobile users on 4G
  • 2025: 59% of mobile users on 4G, 15% of mobile users on 5G

But as with any new innovation, consumers should expect both positives and negatives as the technology matures.

Benefits

  • IoT Connectivity
    5G networks will significantly optimize communication between the Internet of Things (IoT) devices to make our lives more convenient.

  • Low latency
    Also known as lag, latency is the time it takes for data to be transferred over networks. Users may see latency rates drop as low as one millisecond.
  • High speeds
    Real-time streaming may soon be a reality through 5G networks. Downloading a two-hour movie takes a whopping 26 hours over 3G networks and roughly six minutes on 4G networks─however, it’ll only take 3.6 seconds over 5G.

Drawbacks

  • Distance from nodes
    Walls, trees, and even rain can significantly block 5G wireless signals.
  • Requires many nodes
    Many 5G nodes will need to be installed to offer the same level of coverage found on 4G.
  • Restricted to 5G-enabled devices
    Users can’t simply upgrade their software. Instead, they will need a 5G-enabled device to access the network.

Global 5G Networks

5G still has a way to go before it reaches mainstream adoption. Meanwhile, countries and cities are racing to install the infrastructure needed for the next wave of innovation to hit.

Since late 2018, over 25 countries have deployed 5G wireless networks. Notable achievements include South Korea, which became the first country globally to launch 5G wireless technology in April 2019. Switzerland boasts the highest number of 5G network deployments, currently at 225 and counting.

To date, China has built roughly 350,000 5G sites─compared to the less than 20,000 in the U.S.─and plans to invest an additional US$400 billion in infrastructure by 2023. Chinese mobile providers plan to launch 5G services starting in 2020.

What Does This Mean For 4G?

4G isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. As 5G gradually rolls out, 4G and 5G networks will need to work together to support the wave of IoT devices entering the market. This network piggybacking also has the potential to expand global access to the internet in the future.

The race to dominate the wireless waves is even pushing companies like China’s Huawei to explore 6G wireless innovation─before they’ve even launched their 5G networks.

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Chart of the Week

Which Countries Have the Most Wealth Per Capita?

How do the rankings of the world’s most affluent countries change when using different metrics to measure wealth per capita?

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Which Countries Have the Most Wealth Per Capita?

Our animated chart this week uses data from the ninth Credit Suisse Global Wealth report, which ranks countries by average wealth, calculated as gross assets per adult citizen.

While using such a metric certainly gives a quick snapshot of wealth per capita, it doesn’t necessarily show the complete picture.

Some argue, for example, that calculating the mean doesn’t factor in the gap between the richest and poorest in a population—also known as wealth inequality. For this reason, we’ve compared this number to median wealth for each country, providing a separate angle on which countries really have the most wealth per capita.

Mean or Median: Which Makes More Sense?

Below, we’ve visualized a hypothetical example of two groups of people, each earning various sums of money, to show how average (mean) and median calculations make a difference.

Mean vs Median Comparison

What can we observe in both datasets?

  • Total wealth: $2,000
  • Total people: 15 people
  • Average wealth: $2,000 ÷ 15 = $133

However, that’s where the similarities end. In the first group, wealth is distributed more evenly, with the disparity between the lowest-paid and highest-paid being $300. The median wealth for this group reaches $100, which is close to the average value. In the second group, this gap climbs to $495, and the median wealth drops sharply to only $30.

Scaling up this example to the true wealth of nations, we can see how the median wealth provides a more accurate picture of the typical adult, especially in societies that are less equal.

Let’s see how this shakes out when ranking the world’s most affluent countries.

Ranking Top Contenders on Wealth per Capita

When it comes to wealth per capita, it’s clear that Australia and Switzerland lead the pack. In fact, the data shows that both nations top the lists for both mean and median wealth.

However, both nations also have the highest absolute household debt-to-GDP ratios in the world: in 2018, Switzerland’s levels reached nearly 129%, while Australia followed behind at 120%.

Here is a full ranking of the top 20 countries by mean and median wealth:

RankCountryMean wealth per adultCountryMedian wealth per adult
#1🇨🇭 Switzerland$530,244🇦🇺 Australia$191,453
#2🇦🇺 Australia$411,060🇨🇭 Switzerland$183,339
#3🇺🇸 United States$403,974🇧🇪 Belgium$163,429
#4🇧🇪 Belgium$313,045🇳🇱 Netherlands$114,935
#5🇳🇴 Norway$291,103🇫🇷 France$106,827
#6🇳🇿 New Zealand$289,798🇨🇦 Canada$106,342
#7🇨🇦 Canada$288,263🇯🇵 Japan$103,861
#8🇩🇰 Denmark$286,712🇳🇿 New Zealand$98,613
#9🇸🇬 Singapore$283,118🇬🇧 United Kingdom$97,169
#10🇫🇷 France$280,580🇸🇬 Singapore$91,656
#11🇬🇧 United Kingdom$279,048🇪🇸 Spain$87,188
#12🇳🇱 Netherlands$253,205🇳🇴 Norway$80,054
#13🇸🇪 Sweden$249,765🇮🇹 Italy$79,239
#14🇭🇰 Hong Kong$244,672🇹🇼 Taiwan$78,177
#15🇮🇪 Ireland$232,952🇮🇪 Ireland$72,473
#16🇦🇹 Austria$231,368🇦🇹 Austria$70,074
#17🇯🇵 Japan$227,235🇰🇷 South Korea$65,463
#18🇮🇹 Italy$217,727🇺🇸 United States$61,667
#19🇩🇪 Germany$214,893🇩🇰 Denmark$60,999
#20🇹🇼 Taiwan$212,375🇭🇰 Hong Kong$58,905

The United States boasts 41% of the world’s millionaires, but it’s clear that the fruits of labor are enjoyed by only a select group—average wealth ($403,974) is almost seven times higher than median wealth ($61,667). This growing inequality gap knocks the country down to 18th place for median wealth.

The Nordic countries of Norway and Denmark can be found in the top ten for average wealth, but they drop to 12th place ($80,054) and 19th place ($60,999) respectively for median wealth. Despite this difference, these countries also provide a strong safety net—including access to healthcare and education—to more vulnerable citizens.

Finally, wealth in Japan is fairly evenly distributed among its large middle class, which lands it in seventh place on the median wealth list at $103,861. One possible reason is that the pay gap ratio between Japanese CEOs and the average worker is much lower than other developed nations.

With reducing income inequality as a priority for many countries around the world, how might this list change in coming years?

Footnote: All data estimates are using mid-2018 values, and reflected in US$.

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