When Danish utility DONG energy committed to phasing out coal by 2023, I confess I got pretty excited. But even that major commitment pails in comparison to an announcement from Eurelectric—an industry body which represents 3,500 European utilities—that its members will not invest in new-build coal-fired power plants after 2020. (Caveat: Business Green reports that Polish and Greek utilities have not signed up to the pledge.)
Crucially, this commitment is framed as an integral element of a larger commitment from the sector to meet the carbon emissions cuts set out in the Paris agreement. This is a very big deal.
True, not investing in new-build coal plants is not the same as phasing out existing ones. But I am pretty confident that one precedes the other. After all, as investment flows from new coal to new renewables and/or other lower carbon technologies, existing coal plants will also struggle to compete with low marginal cost energy sources like wind and solar.
Already, we've seen this effect at play in the US as coal plant after coal plant closes years ahead of schedule. Similarly, the UK's achievement of "Victorian-era emissions" was achieved thanks—in large part—to the closing down of coal plants. (That, and offshoring manufacturing to China. But progress is being made...)
While efforts to reduce regulations and allow coal to once again pollute our streams and dirty up our air may provide temporary respite for elements of the industry, the long-term trend is clear: coal is on the way out.