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Coal production and consumption see rebound in EU in 2021

Christian Fernsby |
In 2021, EU coal production and consumption saw an increase compared with 2020, experiencing a rebound following the low 2020 and 2019 values, which were partially caused by the measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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However, production and consumption were still lower than the pre-pandemic 2018 figures. This affected both hard coal and brown coal.

Following a consistent decline since 1990, the decrease in the consumption of both types of coal accelerated in 2019 and continued in 2020. In 2021 compared with 2018, hard coal and brown coal (mostly lignite) consumption decreased by 27% and 25.5%, respectively.

However, the full extent of the pandemic’s influence on coal production and consumption will become clearer in the following years.

In 2021, the EU produced 57 million tonnes of hard coal (-79% compared with 1990). The number of Member States producing hard coal has also decreased since then, from 13 in 1990 to only 2 in 2021: Poland (96% of the total EU production) and Czechia (4%).

Similarly, the consumption of hard coal has consistently decreased since 1990, with an accelerated decrease since 2019. In 2021, the EU consumption of hard coal stood at 160 million tonnes (-59% compared with 1990).

The reasons behind lower consumption of hard coal are the energy shift towards natural gas and renewables for electricity production, as well as a decrease in the production of coke oven coke, used in various industries such as for the production of iron and steel.

However, hard coal production experienced a larger decrease than the consumption, leading to an increase in hard coal import dependency, consistently above 50% in the 2010s. Over this last decade, Russia was the largest supplier of hard coal to the EU, and its share in EU hard coal imports increased while the share for other suppliers decreased or stayed stable.

In 2020, the latest year with data available, Russia accounted for 56% of hard coal imports, followed by the United States (17%) and Australia (15%).

Similarly to hard coal, the continuous decrease of brown coal consumption has accelerated from 2019 onwards. In 2021, the EU consumption of brown coal, mostly lignite, is estimated at 277 million tonnes (-60% compared with 1990).

The vast majority of brown coal in the EU is used for electricity production: during the 21st century, more than 90% of brown coal was used for this purpose.

97% of the total brown coal consumption in the EU is taken up by 6 countries: Germany (46%), Poland (19%), Czechia (11%), Bulgaria (10%), Romania (6%) and Greece (5%).

The production and consumption figures for brown coal are very similar, as it is almost always consumed in the production countries. Thus, there is very little trade in brown coal and the EU’s import dependency for it is insignificant.


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