Greenpeace: Coal exports to China will slow

A Greenpeace report released Wednesday found that U.S. coal exports to China face an uncertain future.

The report, “The Myth of China’s Endless Coal Demand: A Missing Market for U.S. Exports,” echoes a study released earlier this month by research firm IHS Cera, which predicted that Chinese coal imports will peak by the end of the decade and enter a prolonged period of decline.

Environmental regulations and cheaper natural gas have caused demand for coal in the United States to drop over the past few years, but international markets have absorbed much of the slack.

The Energy Information Administration reports that coal exports have almost tripled in the past six years, with Chinese demand for coal growing so quickly that the country now accounts for 47 percent of global coal consumption.

The Greenpeace report identifies several factors that it predicts will reduce coal use in China, including policies aimed at reducing pollution, slowing economic growth and increased use of renewable energy.

“Many of the same factors that are causing coal to be phased out of the U.S. market — sluggish economic growth, a rapidly developing renewable energy sector, government policies and social opposition to coal — are conspiring to make the Chinese market for U.S. coal exports economically unviable as well,” Greenpeace China energy analyst Lifeng Fang, the report’s author, said in a statement.

The report cites figures from the China Electricity Council showing that investment in the coal power sector dropped by more than half between 2005 and 2011, from $36.4 billion to $16.9 billion.

China became a net coal importer in 2009, driving the international coal market.

The United States is the fourth-largest exporter of coal in the world, behind Australia, Indonesia and Russia, sending an estimated 124 million tons abroad in 2012, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The Greenpeace report notes that China has set ambitious targets for non-fossil fuel energy production, aiming for 30 percent of installed electricity generation capacity by 2015.