Coal use worldwide

The world’s supply of primary energy, excluding non-commercial biofuels, totalled 21 billion tonnes of coal equivalent (Gtce) in 2019. Coal, with a 27% share, ranked second after oil as one of the major sources of primary energy. Coal production has more than doubled since 1980.

11-Eurocoal IIAccording to the IEA, world coal production reached 7.6 billion tonnes in 2020, including 6.7 billion tonnes of hard coal and 0.6 billion tonnes of lignite. In turn, the production of hard coal comprised 5.7 billion tonnes of steam coal, mainly used for electricity generation, and 1.0 billon tonnes of coking coal for iron and steelmaking.

For power generation, coal plays a major role in both developed and emerging economies. In 2019, 37% of global power generation was based on coal.

See Coal industry across Europe for more on coal production and use, including a section on the International Coal Market and Global Energy Trends.

In short, although unloved in the EU, coal is an appreciated energy source worldwide: its use continues to grow, providing energy for billions of people.

Since the turn of the new millennium, from 2000 to 2020, coal use has grown more strongly than any other primary energy source, by 2.2 Gtce in absolute terms, helping to meet a 5.5 Gtce or 41% growth in overall energy demand (BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2021). In 2020, global energy consumption decreased by 4.3%, mainly due to the global SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

New renewables, such as wind, solar, modern biofuels and geothermal, have grown quickly since the year 2000, by an average of 13% each year to add 1.0 Gtce. However, in absolute terms, their contribution remains limited, amounting to less than 6% of worldwide primary energy consumption in 2020.

Energy reserves and resources

Well over one half of the world’s non-renewable energy reserves are in the form of coal and lignite which together account for an even larger share of resources. Renewable energy is abundant and – in the case of wind, solar and geothermal – practically inexhaustible, although much harder to quantify as a resource since converting it into useful energy can be inefficient and expensive.

We are not about to run out of energy: the world has sufficient energy reserves of all types for the next 80 years and resources to last over one thousand years.

Coal and lignite reserves are sufficient for over one hundred years at current rates of production. Unlike oil and gas, coal is widely distributed around the world with particularly large reserves in the USA, Russia and China.

Global hard coal and lignite reserves as at 1.1.2018 (Source: BGR, 2019 and own calculations)

For this reason, coal offers a much higher level of supply security: most coal is used in the country of extraction. Where there is an indigenous source of coal, supply security is self-evident. Where coal is imported, supply is supported by a competitive market and a well-developed infrastructure.

At less than 3%, the EU’s share of global non-renewable energy reserves and resources is rather small.

As at the global level, it is the EU’s reserves and resources of coal and lignite that are most significant: together they account for 93% of the EU’s remaining potential. Some coal deposits lie near consumers and can be exploited under very favourable conditions. For example, surface-mined lignite in Bulgaria, Czechia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Poland and Romania is used mainly for power generation, often transported to power plants over short distances by conveyor belt to produce some of the lowest-cost electricity in Europe. Hard coal, both indigenously produced and imported, is much less expensive than imported oil or gas and the majority of EU member states enjoy the benefits of competitive and reliable coal-fired electricity generation.