New Analysis Shows the Global Transition from Coal to Clean Energy Has Reached a Financial Tipping Point

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A breakthrough report by Rocky Mountain Institute, Carbon Tracker Initiative, and Sierra Club offers new financial data and specific tools for making global coal phase-out feasible and just

A faster transition from coal to clean energy is within our grasp, and we show how to engineer that transition in ways that will save money for electricity customers around the world while aiding a just transition for workers and communities.

Rocky Mountain Institute, Carbon Tracker Initiative, and Sierra Club have released a report – How to Retire Early: Making Accelerated Coal Phase-Out Feasible and Just – that reveals that new renewable energy is already cheaper than continuing to operate coal plants in much of the world. It lays out specific financial strategies that utilities and policy-makers can use to engineer a faster phase-out of coal in various regions of the world.

This new analysis shows that new renewable energy is not only cheaper than new coal plants virtually everywhere, but that it is already cheaper to build new renewable energy capacity including battery storage than to continue operating 39 percent of the world's existing coal capacity. The share of uncompetitive coal plants worldwide will increase rapidly to 60 percent in 2022 and to 73 percent in 2025. Replacing the entire global coal fleet with clean energy can be done at a net savings to society as early as 2022.

“A faster transition from coal to clean energy is within our grasp, and we show how to engineer that transition in ways that will save money for electricity customers around the world while aiding a just transition for workers and communities,” said Paul Bodnar, Managing Director at Rocky Mountain Institute.”

The authors estimate that replacing the entire fleet of global coal plants with clean energy plus battery storage could be done at a net annual savings as early as 2022. The rapidly declining costs of renewables push net annual savings to $105 billion in 2025. All this, the report states, is before considering coal's dire health, climate, and environmental impacts, or accounting for the social and environmental benefits of reducing pollutants. Currently, coal phaseout hasn't kept pace with eroding economics. To keep the Paris Agreement's temperature targets within reach, global coal use must decline by 80 percent below 2010 levels by 2030, requiring rapid transition in OECD countries over the next decade and phase-out in the rest of the world by 2040.

“Coal power is quickly facing economic obsolescence, independent of carbon pricing and air pollution policies. Closing coal capacity and replacing it with lower cost alternatives will not only save consumers and taxpayers money, but could also play a major role in the upcoming economic recovery,” said Matt Gray, Managing Director, Co-Head of Power and Utilities at the Carbon Tracker Initiative.

How to Retire Early lays out options for governments and public finance institutions to accelerate coal phase-out. The authors offer an integrated three-part approach: 1) refinancing to fund the coal transition and save customers money on day one, 2) reinvesting in clean energy, and 3) providing transition financing for workers and communities. In 2020, U.S. policymakers could help customers save up to $10 billion annually using the three-part approach to phase out the 79 percent of the 236 GW coal fleet that is uncompetitive today.

“Tackling the climate crisis requires a swift transition off of coal and onto clean, renewable energy. This report shows just how much cheaper it is to invest in renewable energy, and why it makes less and less sense to keep running coal plants, even before climate change is taken into account. What's more, this report shows how innovative financial tools can be used to retire coal plants while saving consumers money, cleaning the air and water, improving public health, and ensuring a just transition for workers and communities,” said Mary Anne Hitt, National Director of Campaigns.

Meanwhile, outside the United States, a third of the global coal fleet is already more costly to continue operating than building new renewables with storage today. By 2025, that number will reach nearly 80 percent globally with several regions and countries seeing next to no competitive coal. In the European Union, 81% of the coal fleet is uncompetitive today and that percentage will reach 100% by 2025. In China, 43% of the coal fleet is uncompetitive today, and that number will reach nearly 100% by 2025. In India, 17% of the coal fleet is uncompetitive today, and that number will reach 85% in 2025.

“Given the long lead times for electricity system planning and decision-making as well as the size of the opportunity,” said Jules Kortenhorst, CEO of Rocky Mountain Institute, “now is the time to start structuring accelerated coal phase-out in all regions.”

To download the report please visit: https://rmi.org/insight/how-to-retire-early

Media Inquiries please contact:
(RMI) Nick Steel, Manager - Media Relations, T: +1 347-574-0887, E: nsteel@rmi.org
(CTI - US/India/China) Daniel Cronin, Communications Manager, T: 1-617-678-5263, E: dcronin@carbontracker.org
(CTI – Europe) Joel Benjamin, Communications Manager, T: +44 (0)7429 637423, E: jbenjamin@carbontracker.org    
(Sierra Club) Cindy Carr, Deputy Press Secretary, T: +1 202-495-3034, E: cindy.carr@sierraclub.org

Notes to Editors

About Rocky Mountain Institute
Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI)—an independent nonprofit founded in 1982—transforms global energy use to create a clean, prosperous, and secure low-carbon future. It engages businesses, communities, institutions, and entrepreneurs to accelerate the adoption of market-based solutions that cost-effectively shift from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables. RMI [i1] has offices in Basalt and Boulder, Colorado; New York City; Washington, D.C.; and Beijing.

More information on RMI can be found at http://www.rmi.org or follow us on Twitter @RockyMtnInst.

About Carbon Tracker
The Carbon Tracker Initiative is a not-for-profit financial think tank that seeks to promote a climate-secure global energy market by aligning capital markets with climate reality. Our research to date on the carbon bubble unburnable carbon and stranded assets has begun a new debate on how to align the financial system with the energy transition to a low carbon future.

http://www.carbontracker.org

About Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America's largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.5 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action.

For more information, visit http://www.sierraclub.org

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