Coal use has not been this low since 1985
Dutch coal consumption decreased sharply in 2019. This is reported by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) on Monday. Coal consumption fell by 22 percent in one year, the largest decrease in twenty years. The cause is the deteriorated economic position of coal-fired power stations.
Since 1985, the use of coal in the Netherlands has not been this low. This year, that decline appears to be continuing.
Coal was responsible for only 9 percent of the total energy consumption in the Netherlands in 2019. CBS economist Cor Pierik attributes the sudden decrease in coal use to price developments. “Natural gas has become relatively cheaper compared to coal,” he says.
Natural gas has fallen sharply in price on the world market since last summer and is now extremely cheap: wholesalers pay only 6 cents per cubic meter. As a result, more electricity is generated in natural gas plants and less in coal-fired plants.
In addition, in 2019 the high European CO2-price unfavorable for coal-fired power stations, because they contain twice as much CO2 emitting as natural gas plants. The Netherlands is no exception: electricity production from coal-fired power stations declined sharply throughout Europe last year.
In recent months, coal use has declined even further. Energy expert Martien Visser of the Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen reported on Twitter last week that the deployment of coal-fired power stations in the first four months of 2020 is “historically low”. Their electricity production has more than halved compared to the same period in 2019.
At the end of last year, the Amsterdam Hemweg power station was closed due to the Urgenda judgment, which obliges the Netherlands to reduce the CO2significantly reduce emissions. Another coal-fired power station broke down in January and has not yet been repaired.
In addition, the market for coal-fired power stations remains unfavourable. Natural gas has become even cheaper due to the corona crisis. Also in Western Europe more and more cheap wind and solar energy are generated. In this sunny spring, the production of Dutch solar panels continues to break records.
At the end of April, the cabinet decided that the deployment of three of the four remaining coal-fired power stations must be permanently reduced, also because of the Urgenda judgment. From 2021 a legal production limitation will apply.
Natural gas extraction
Natural gas has been the main source of energy in the Netherlands for decades: it is used in power stations and for heating. The share rose last year from 41 to 44 percent. CBS economist Pierik notes that in 2019 more use will be made of foreign gas in the Netherlands. “The extraction of Dutch natural gas has decreased considerably.”
Because the gas tap in Groningen is quickly turned off, the import of gas is increasing. Since 2018, the Netherlands is no longer an exporter of natural gas, but an importer. Gas comes not only by pipeline from Russia, for example, but also increasingly by ship (as liquid natural gas, or LNG) from countries such as the United States and Qatar. The CBS figures show that LNG imports in 2019 were ten times higher than two years earlier.
Total energy consumption in the Netherlands in 2019 remained more or less the same as the previous year, at 3,080 petajoules. That is the same as 25 years ago. Dutch energy consumption was highest in 2010, when it peaked at almost 3,500 petajoules.
After natural gas, oil is the most commonly used fuel in the Netherlands. This is processed in refineries into fuel and raw material for the chemical industry. The use of petroleum is quite constant. The decrease of 4 percent in 2019 is therefore striking. Oil consumption has never been this low this century. Several factories were shut down, and kerosene use fell for the first time in ten years last year.