Coal power generation down 79% in Ireland

Published by Niall Sargent on

July 26th, 2019

A new analysis shows that energy generation from coal collapsed by 79 per cent in the first half of 2019 in Ireland.

The study from the environmental think-tank Sandbag found that coal use fell across the board in Europe, with overall usage down 19 per cent.

The latest figures come on top of a 30 per cent drop in coal generation between 2012 and 2018, the Brussels-based group said.

Sandbag’s analysis found that Ireland, together with the UK and France, have operated at zero or near-zero coal generation of less than 2 per cent of the electricity mix on many occasions in the first half of the year.

If coal stays at this level for the rest of the year, CO2 emissions will drop by 65 million tonnes compared to last year, the study found, reducing the bloc’s overall emissions by 1.5 per cent.

The analysis states that the rise in the EU’s carbon price to close to €30 per tonne is leading to the collapse in long-term coal plant profitability.

This is certainly true in the case of Moneypoint, one of our largest stations with a total generation capacity of 915MW. The plant made up over one-fifth of electricity generation in 2016.

This is in stark contrast to the first six months of 2019 as the three turbines at the Co Clare plant have seen little to no action as the plant operates at low levels.

The semi-state has put the change down to a combination of international market pressures and increasing carbon prices. Moneypoint was also out of action for most of the second half of 2018 owing to issues with its turbines.

Last December, The Green News revealed that all three coal-fired units at ESB’s Moneypoint power station were out of action for several months throughout the year due to a forced outage.

As a result, carbon emissions from the energy sector in 2018 fell by seven per cent compared to the previous year. This was acknowledged by the Taoiseach who tweeted that Moneypoint was a big factor in the drop.

Coal in electricity mix Graphic: Sandbag

European findings

Across Europe, half of coal’s fall was replaced by wind and solar, Sandbag said, and the remaining half was replaced by switching to gas.

The countries that built the most wind and solar capacity saw the biggest fall in coal generation, the analysis found.

Around 95 per cent of wind and solar installed in 2018 was in Western European countries where the biggest falls in coal generation were noted.

The countries that built the least wind and solar capacity saw the smallest fall in coal generation, Sandbag said. Eastern European countries such as Poland and Bulgaria accounting for only five per cent of wind and solar installations in 2018.

Electricity analyst at Sandbag, Dave Jones said that the overall data shows that 2019 may “mark the beginning of the end” for coal power in Europe.

“Now that carbon pricing is finally working with the price approaching €30 per tonne, the economics have already shifted not only from coal to gas generation, but also directly from coal to clean generation,” he said, “avoiding the need for a gas bridge”.

“Now [that] the economics have changed, policy-makers will now find it is much easier to support wind and solar, and to plan for a full transition from coal to clean,” he added.

The think-tank stressed, however, that there is a long way to go as only three per cent of coal plants closed in 2018, most in the UK and Germany.

Even if emissions continue to fall in 2019, coal generation is still likely to account for 12 per cent of the EU’s emissions this year, the study found.

“All stakeholders must work together with workers to ensure a just transition and a speedy transition,” the analysis states.

“If compensation must be paid to close coal plants, it should recognise that these coal plants are unlikely to be profitable today, and likely to be even more-so tomorrow.”

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London