Although coal’s share of electricity generation in the United States has declined recently, international demand for coal continues to grow.
Consistently the largest single energy source for generating electricity worldwide, in 1990 coal produced 37 percent of the world’s electricity. Today coal’s share has climbed to more than 40 percent.
Coal is expected to play a major role in bringing electricity to the 1.3 billion people around the world who’ve never had reliable power. Experts at the International Energy Agency predict that by the year 2035, coal will still be producing more than 40 percent of the world’s electricity.
Coal is the most widely chosen fuel for generating electricity because it contains a lot of energy, it’s widely available, and it’s easy to use.
In a thermal power plant, the energy released during a fuel’s combustion heats water to make steam to spin the turbines that generate electricity. Coal offers many advantages over other fuels. Coal is abundant and ready to use right out of the ground. Coal needs no lengthy refining processes or other complicated preparations. Coal is easy to transport by rail or ship without the need for high-pressure pipelines or extra security measures. Coal can be stored simply and is ready immediately in many kinds of weather situations.
Different power plant designs in the 21st century make coal an even more valuable fuel. Improved efficiency at these new plants increases the amount of useable energy released, while also decreasing unwanted emissions. As more “supercritical” and “ultra-supercritical” advanced coal power plants are built worldwide, demand for steady supplies of coal to fuel them will grow.
U.S. coal exports reached new highs during 2011, with about 20 million tons going to power plants in Europe and about 8 million tons shipped to power plants in Asia.