Coal is a combustible, sedimentary, organic rock composed primarily of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. It is the world’s leading source of power generation, comprising about 38% of electricity use globally. Power plants make steam by burning coal, and the steam turns turbines to generate electricity. Not only does coal provide electricity, it is also an essential fuel for steel and cement production, and other industrial activities. The United States has the largest supply of coal reserves in the world. According to the Department of Energy, based on 2017 U.S. coal production of about 780 million tons, these reserves would last about 325 years.
About 700 million short tons of coal are consumed in the United States each year, equal to about 14% of total U.S. energy consumption. The vast majority of this—over 90%--is used for electricity generation. Coal remains the second-largest source of electricity generation in the U.S., meeting about 30% of annual demand. Significant amounts of coal are also used by industry to power manufacturing processes or as a direct input. For example, the concrete and paper industries consume large amounts of coal to produce heat, and the steel industry uses “coking coal” to smelt iron ore into iron to make steel.
Working together with state and federal regulators, coal producers and the electricity generators have made dramatic strides addressing environmental issues associated with coal. Utility owners have invested nearly $130 billion in emissions control technologies, and as a result, emissions per kilowatt-hour of generation of key pollutants (SO2, NOx, and PM) have been reduced by 93% since 1970. These investments are an important reason that America’s air quality has steadily improved, and is now among the c and around the world, coal is recognized as an affordable, reliable source of electricity that is certain to remain an important part of the energy mix for years to come. Since 2000, total worldwide installed capacity of coal-fired power plants has grown by 62%, and now exceeds 2,000 gigawatts. This growth is occurring primarily in developing countries, where more than 1 billion people still lack access to electricity and the life-saving services it provides. As International Energy Agency head Fatih Birol has stated, coal is “the fuel underpinning the rapid industrialization of emerging economies, helping to raise living standards and lift hundreds of millions of people out of energy poverty.”
American energy resources such as coal are playing a key role in enabling this important social progress, delivering low-cost energy to electricity consumers around the world. Unfortunately, a lack of export infrastructure and prohibitions on access to various financing opportunities is limiting such opportunities. GEI is working to address obstacles such as these and continues to advance clean and responsible use of affordable resources such as coal, both here in the U.S. and around the world.