In most European countries, electricity demand has been stagnating or even declining for decades. Renewables and gas are supplying ever greater proportions of what is consumed, and higher CO2 trading prices (a tax on production of CO2) in Europe have dis-incentivised coal use.
This has led to falling demand for coal Europe – exacerbated in 2020 by the Covid- 19 pandemic. But coal is still used more than is often thought. Poland is Europe’s chief coal consumer with 78.3 percent of its electricity produced from coal in 2018. In early 2020, there were 239 operating coal power stations in Europe (Europe here includes EU member countries, the UK, Turkey, and the Western Balkans), 162 of which burn hard coal and 77 which burn lignite coal. Some countries, like Poland, Czech Republic, and the UK, both mine and import hard coal, whereas other countries are entirely reliant on imports.
European power stations were mainly built around 30-60 years ago and are therefore far less efficient at turning coal into electricity than the much newer power stations built in the last decade. Most of the potential energy in coal is wasted. The 30 dirtiest European power stations alone released over 113 million tonnes of CO2 in 2019 – that’s the equivalent of the combined emissions from Belgium and Latvia in 2018!
Although improved efficiency dramatically reduces pollution, due the catastrophic social and environmental problems associated with coal mining and transport, we need to break our addiction to it altogether, rather than build ‘better power stations’, which allows corporations to greenwash and describe their coal as ‘clean coal’.