Southeast Asia, India turn to coal for power, imports expected to jump

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Southeast Asia and India are set to pick up the slack and drive global coal demand through 2040 as China cuts use of the fossil fuel to fight pollution, forecasts from the International Energy Agency and Wood Mackenzie show.

India and Southeast Asia will account for the bulk of increased coal use in the decades ahead as they rely on one of the cheapest sources of power to supply electricity, although pollution concerns have delayed some projects.

“Coal maintains a strong foothold in (Southeast Asia’s) projected consumption, not only because it is markedly cheaper than natural gas, but also because coal projects are in many cases easier to pursue as they do not require the capital-intensive infrastructure associated with gas,” the International Energy Agency said this week in its outlook for Southeast Asia.

Some 100 gigawatts (GW) of new coal-fired capacity is expected to be built in Southeast Asia by 2040, boosting the total installed capacity to 160 GW, the agency said. Forty percent of the new capacity will be in Indonesia, it said.

By then, around half of the power plants will use either supercritical or ultra-supercritical technology, raising efficiency to 38 percent from 33 percent now, the IEA said, but still below international standards.

Southeast Asia will become a net coal importer by 2040 as production slips to about 375 million tonnes of coal equivalent (mtce), while demand rises 3.7 percent yearly to 387 mtce, the agency said.

Vietnam, which recently overtook Thailand as the second-largest coal consumer in Southeast Asia, will become the largest regional importer by 2040, the IEA said.

Wood Mackenzie expects Southeast Asia’s thermal coal imports to more than double to 226 million tonnes by 2035, up from 85 million tonnes currently.

Imports into South Asia, which includes India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, will rise to 284 million tonnes, up 72 percent during the same period, a forecast from the consultancy shows.

In contrast, North Asia’s imports will drop 14 percent to 274 million tonnes, with China’s intake falling about 40 percent to 103 million tonnes, according to Wood Mackenzie.

“Coal is still the most affordable technology in power generation, although we are seeing some push back in coal development,” Kiah Wei Giam, principal analyst of coal/gas markets at Wood Mackenzie, said at the Singapore International Energy Week.

Still, he said coal’s demand outlook remains bright until at least 2025, unless renewables and batteries become cost-competitive.

Public opposition has delayed coal-fired power projects in Thailand, Myanmar and the Philippines.

Reporting by Florence Tan; Editing by Joseph Radford and Tom Hogue