FT: UK ports look beyond fading coal imports

UK ports look beyond fading coal imports says the FT:

Ports from south-west England to central Scotland have been taken aback by the speed at which demand has evaporated for what had been one of their most dependable cargoes — coal. As coal-fired power stations across the country shut, ports have been hit by a sharp drop in imports... At the Port of Tyne — located on a river that has shipped coal since the 14th century — coal imports are expected to dive from a record 5m tonnes in 2013 to zero this year... In recent decades, imports have been boosted by the contraction of UK coal mining and the need for low sulphur coal to meet rising environmental standards. But last month a historic “zero coal” milestone was reached when on seven separate occasions in one week Britain was powered without any coal-power station burning. As a consequence imports of coal to the UK are plummeting.

Which is interesting. As is Danish pension scheme threatens to blacklist coal companies (also in the FT; really, its the only place for real news) featuring

Businesses that rely on coal for at least a quarter of their revenues face being blacklisted by one of Europe’s largest pension funds amid fears that high-carbon investments could end up being worthless... “We certainly believe there is a financial risk [when it comes to investing in coal companies], otherwise we wouldn’t have taken [these] steps. At the end of the day, we are here to provide the best possible returns for investors.”

Ah, those are the kind of people you want to hear saying things like that.

See also

* Divestment campaigns: Fight the power?
* Investors warn of ‘carbon bubble’ as Shell predicts climate regulation will hit profits?
* The Carbon Bubble: All we have to do is decide to not commit civilizational suicide – and the markets crash?

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Interesting. So it won't be long before people don't know what the expression "coals to Newcastle" is supposed to mean.

By Raymond Arritt (not verified) on 06 Jun 2016 #permalink

So what is the alternate energy source? Mostly natural gas?

By David B. Benson (not verified) on 06 Jun 2016 #permalink

David -

Yes, Natural gas is something like 50% of UK electricity, with nuclear at c. 22%. Then coal and biomass - at least some of those coal imports have been replaced by wood pellets, with dubious environmental benefits.

Wind varies from 0 to 25% (max c.7GW against lowest demand of c. 28GW).

A cynical person may think that replacing local Coal with imported LNG (with large lifecycle emissions) and wood is not exactly a huge environmental leap forward.

[The wood pellets I feel very dubious about; I've yet to see anyone credible defend them -w]

By Andrew Dodds (not verified) on 07 Jun 2016 #permalink

Not having tracked down the fate of wood chips not sent overseas from America, I presume they are diverted mainly from construction materials and mulch / compost streams. I suppose the forests would benefit from the decayed chips if uncontaminated. I know my garden does, as I acquire compost from my city which recycles the tree surgeons' waste.

To lump all the wind, solar, and wood chips together strikes me as a poor way to publish these statistics. Almost as if the publisher prefers to hide something.

By Russell the Stout (not verified) on 07 Jun 2016 #permalink

Cheer up, Tynesiders !

The lede vividly illustrates that the EU is still exporting souls to Newcastle

Russellthestout - if you want a little more itemisation, follow the link. Renewables are split into hydro, wind & solar (with a separate line for offshore wind) and 'bioenergy'. Wind and solar together have added about double the additional electricity of bioenergy's contribution in the last 5 years. Offshore wind and bioenergy have increased at about the same level. And if you want to really delve there's this

Okay, I'll compare cellulose to coal and note that cellulose is equivalent to hexane, according to Wiki, which is better than burning coal. I won't attempt to compare it with CH4 because I still haven't nailed down the incidental CO2 average worldwide discarded prior to the isolation of methane during refining.

By Russell the Stout (not verified) on 07 Jun 2016 #permalink

I can't work and do this at the same time. I should have remained quiet. Obviously (now) cellulose is about as bad as coal.

By Russell the Stout (not verified) on 07 Jun 2016 #permalink

Having had time to evaluate more, realizing my scant hydrocarbon chemistry is not going to elucidate my lignin and cellulose evaluations very much, I wish I hadn't flailed all over your site, Mr. C.

I wish someone could just delete my previous embarrassments.

I will point out that as far as I know live trees eat their dead, and to deprive them of that nutrition seems suspect.

By Russell the Stout (not verified) on 07 Jun 2016 #permalink

hautbois --- Thank you, especially for the carbonbrief link.

By David B. Benson (not verified) on 07 Jun 2016 #permalink

Further, solar generated more electricity in the UK than coal in the whole of the merry month of May - that's its first month on top. Quite a lot more too: solar 1.4 TWh, coal 0.9 TWh.
Again, Carbon Brief has the numbers (I don't work for CB in case you're wondering).

Russell the Stout: wood is a great deal better than coal, because burning wood is pumping carbon into the atmosphere from the fast carbon cycle -- whereas burning coal is working through the *slow* carbon cycle.

On human-life timescales, burning waste wood has zero net carbon effect outside of processing and transport, because otherwise it was going to rot anyway.

The premise is that you can switch from the slow cycle to the fast for very little capital cost by converting coal plants, and you have all this waste wood lying about anyway. The part I'm mega-skeptical about is the waste-wood part: it doesn't take long before it becomes worth it to waste more wood than before, and then you have to figure land-use changes and more transport costs.

By numerobis (not verified) on 08 Jun 2016 #permalink

It's all well and good for someone from England or Germany to reassure me that the removal of potash and organic material from my forests is okay, and that CO2 added to the atmosphere doesn't really count in the new modified account sheet.
I used to have a hardwood floor business.You can lock up a good amount of carbon in human furnishings. As opposed to burning it.
Granted, no one is going to transport sawmill debris back to the forest and scatter it to increase the health of the forest, so it is waste; or rather due for oxidation if not used for pressboard or paper.

By Russell the Stout (not verified) on 10 Jun 2016 #permalink

Still learning about biomass and wood pellets. Personally I don't think it matters much that it'll take 30-50 years for the carbon from pellets to be neutralized by regrowth in the original forests. It does matter if biomass incentivizes a change in the cycle, where forests are harvested more quickly for biomass potential, and carbon spends a higher percentage of time in the air as opposed to being locked up.

I'll also add with fairly high certainty that those trees grow very fast in the Southeast US, and with somewhat lower certainty that they don't displace much agriculture, so the knock-on effect is minimized.

By Brian Schmidt (not verified) on 12 Jun 2016 #permalink

I think the problem with wood pellets as a large scale fuel is similar to that of biodiesel. You start with using waste streams - sawdust, chip fat, thinnings,etc - which would otherwise be dumped, and this is good and a net positive. But as the demand massively outstrips the size of these waste streams, you end up with dedicated product. Palm oil for biodiesel being an example.

Roughly speaking, we produce about 2 billion tonnes of wood a year worldwide. And about 4 billion tonnes of coal. So meaningful replacement of coal by wood would mean serious, dedicated farming of wood for biofuel, which would be an environmental disaster.

[That expresses rather well what I was thinking, but hadn't managed to articulate -W]

By Andrew Dodds (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink

When raising trees becomes an enterprise that resembles agriculture in practice it's hard to say why exhausting the soils of forest is somehow different from the same in land used for cotton or corn. For a nation to exhaust its forest soils is a loss of national wealth, which is in private hands, and national security, which might not be.

By Russell the Stout (not verified) on 13 Jun 2016 #permalink