Power forecasting the inevitable decline of coal

I love predictions, especially about the future, and apart from the boffin masters at Martin Place with their inflation dart throwing workouts, the chaps at the IEA (International Energy Agency) are not having a good decade.

Here’s their forecasts for US coal generation in the last decade vs actual electrical production:

Versus solar additional power supply – even in the face of some robust opposition in the US, continued fossil fuel subsidies and lower oil prices – (charts courtesy of Ramez Naam):

Which has caused the price of electricity to fall drastically when done with solar and wind, now cheaper than coal or gas, let alone super expensive (and tailend risky) nuclear:


This is being seen locally with solar power generating more than coal for the first time late last year – but only for a sweet moment – as Australia remains completely behind the curve in switching to renewables, despite how cheap its getting and how crystal fucking clear it is that coal and gas should never be used again to generate power….

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  1. We’re just so lucky that in NSW the Electricity Infrastructure providers blew their wad so called “Gold Plating” our 2000 era Transmission line infrastructure….pity it’s not the Electricity Infrastructure that’s needed in 2020 (never mind 2030) ..f#cking clueless is the only accurate way to describe Australia’s Electricity system planners.
    this would just be seriously funny, if it weren’t talking about something as socially and economically important as Electricity Infrastructure.

  2. If you think those trends are fast, just wait until they start making solar panels that are around 1000x more efficient, there won’t be a country in the world where it won’t be the cheapest from of energy! Anyone invested in fossil fuels better get out quick. And this would also blow up the idea of Australia being a supplier of green energy to the world. This is one reason why I worry that if we don’t start increasing economic complexity, innovating technology, advanced manufacturing, AI, robotics etc NOW we will never again enjoy the comparative living standards to other countries we do now.


    • a bit misleading
      today’s typical residential style PV solar cells have an efficiency of about 20%, some newer multi layer stuff has an efficiency of about 50%. From memory the theoretical maximum for a PV style solar cell is 53%.
      As for other types of thin film solar cells they typically have efficiencies in the low single digits or less, so 10x efficiency improvement is still much less than the 20% from a typical PV solar cell.
      the only real advantage that thin film solar has is cost, and potentially lower deployment cost (solar paint) Cell manufacturing cost won’t be a significant advantage in Australia unless they can dramatically reduce installation costs.

      • Not following what you mean. Isn’t this a new discovery that seems to show combining those materials as thin films reacin an unexpected way and produce much greater efficiency?

        • Display NameMEMBER

          I think the point is that if something is already 20-50% efficient converting the suns energy to electricity you cannot be 1000x more efficient. First law of thermodynamics…

        • Read exactly what they say, not what you, me and everyone else understood.
          The 1000% increase relates to the improvement in their own first generation product, they make no claims that they’re achieved increased efficiency for even other thin film solar cells, simply that this new method increases the efficiency over their old thin film methods.

  3. cuturhairMEMBER

    I think you’re being a bit harsh on Australia as a whole (however you are not being too harsh on Australian politicians).

    Quote from above link: ‘AEMO, whose main responsibility is to keep the lights on, is modelling a 79 per cent share of renewables (that’s an average over the year) by 2030 as its most likely and now central scenario.’
    Hopefully we can beat 79% by 2030!

  4. Actually, Australia solar usage collectively is among the highest global, and use per capita, I think, is the highest, I posted a link here on MB recently (typical, you cannot find it when you want to). I have it on my roof, making.a small credit. But no effect on dropping power bills for anyone else? The EIA didn’t see oil shale coming, which was fine, no one did, and global coal usage this year will set new records. The Ramez Naam diagram is a fiction.

    Lack of credibility on this issue… but I get it, it plays to your audience.

    • Not fictional, just selective. The coal chart is US coal generation. The global chart is less stark but the point remains that coal demand forecasts never get revised upward. The decline is structural.