G7 Countries Talk 2035 End Date for Coal-Fired Generation

Energy ministers from seven of the world’s largest economies, including the U.S., said they would end the use of “unabated” coal by 2035, but also said countries could extend that deadline if circumstances warrant.

The Group of Seven (G7) members, which also include Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Japan and Italy, published a communiqué on April 30 that said the countries would “phase out existing unabated coal power generation in our energy systems in the first half of [the] 2030s.” G7 leaders on energy, climate, and environment are meeting this week in Turin, Italy.

Italy is hosting the meeting by virtue of holding the rotating G7 presidency this year. By referencing “unabated” coal, Tuesday’s agreement means countries could continue burning coal if carbon emissions are captured at their source.

New EPA Rules Impact U.S. Plants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week published new rules calling for U.S. coal-fired power plants to virtually eliminate their pollution, or shut down. The EPA also imposed additional regulations on coal-burning facilities, including stricter limits on emissions of mercury. The rules also put tighter restrictions on the release of coal ash from power plants into water systems, and limit discharge of wastewater from coal plants.

The G7 agreement includes a caveat, saying countries could implement “a timeline consistent with keeping a limit of 1.5C temperature rise within reach, in line with countries’ net-zero pathways.” The agreement does not mention any curtailment of natural gas-fired generation.

Several G7 members already have curtailed the use of coal to produce electricity. The fuel makes up less than 6% of the power generation mix in Canada, Italy, and the UK. France has just two remaining coal-fired units; both are expected to close this year. Ember, an energy think-tank, said coal-fired power accounts for 32% of Japan’s electricity output. Germany, which shuttered several coal-fired units in the past month, is at 27%, and the U.S. is at about 16%, according to Ember. Each G7 member except Japan has set an end date for coal.

The ministers in their communiqué also said nuclear power would have a role to play in fighting climate change and supporting global energy security, writing, “We note the global declaration to triple global nuclear energy capacity by 2050 launched during COP28 and recognize that for countries that opt to use it nuclear energy will play a role in reducing dependence on fossil fuels, supporting the transition to net-zero and ensuring energy security.”

Stefano Buono, CEO of newcleo, a nuclear energy group, in an email to POWER wrote, “We warmly welcome the results of the G7 energy and climate meeting. The support for nuclear energy and the phase-out of coal by 2035 go hand in hand, as nuclear energy will easily substitute coal in industrial heating and electricity generation applications.” Buono, whose company is working on lead-cooled small modular reactor technology, said, “If the regulatory framework is set up rapidly, we could expect to deploy the first SMRs in Italy by 2033, an ambitious timeline that is well within the requirements of the energy transition and 2050 net-zero targets.”

‘Economic and Social Equilibrium’

Italian Environment and Energy Security Minister Gilberto Pichetto Fratin on Tuesday said the G7 agreement shows that the countries “undertake to phase out the use of coal, without jeopardizing the various countries’ economic and social equilibrium.”

The G7 by virtue of its economic might is often a leader on climate-related actions, with decisions influencing efforts in other countries such as India and China.

Tuesday’s agreement follows discussions on ending coal-fired power generation that were held at the United Nations’ COP28 climate summit late last year in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

Demonstrators have gathered outside the meeting venue in Italy, protesting that the G7 members are not doing enough, or moving quickly enough, to combat climate change. Other items being discussed at the meeting include increasing infrastructure investment for power transmission and distribution, and developing more battery energy storage capacity.

Increase in Energy Storage

A source told Reuters that the G7 group may call for a six-fold increase in battery energy storage capacity by 2030 (from 2022 levels) to help support intermittent renewable energy. The news service also reported that the energy ministers are supporting nuclear energy, and biofuels, as ways to reduce the use of fossil fuels by the power generation and transportation sectors.

The G7 leaders also Tuesday said they have asked the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) to monitor and track the group’s progress on renewable energy. The group at COP28 last year noted a goal to triple global renewable energy by 2030.

“Trust and transparency go hand in hand,” said IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera, who is attending the meeting in Turin this week. “IRENA will respond swiftly to the request by G7 members to track the group’s progress toward the global target to triple renewable power capacity by 2030.”

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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