Russian war is actually reducing fossil fuel use, study says

Ukrainian rescuers clear debris after a rocket hit a residential building in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Sept 8, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING - Russia's invasion of Ukraine has accelerated clean energy investments and reduced coal and gas power use, according to a new report that puts a counterintuitive spin on how the war is impacting the global energy crisis.

While global power demand in the first half of 2022 grew by about 2.5 per cent over the previous year, emissions fell by about 1 per cent thanks to the drop in fossil fuel generation, S&P Global Commodity Insights said.

Coal consumption by power plants dropped 1.2 per cent and gas saw a small decline during the period, compared with a 17 per cent jump in wind and solar output.

The decrease in fuel use runs counter to the fevered effort countries have put into securing supplies after Russia's invasion disrupted global energy trade flows.

That scramble has bid up prices of coal and gas to records, causing power shortages in countries that can't afford it and demand destruction even in richer ones that can.

"The drop in emissions may seem surprising given the popular narrative that focuses on fossil energy security, but in reality it is quite straightforward - high fuel prices lead to less demand," said Xizhou Zhou, vice president of global power and renewables at S&P Global Commodity Insights.

Investment in new energy generation tells the same story, with the share of new coal power plants shrinking in favor of renewables.

In South-east Asia, the cancellation of several coal power projects reduced its share of capacity under development to 10 per cent from about 27 per cent last year, while renewables have more than doubled their share to 49 per cent, according to the report.

To be sure, some areas have seen increases in fossil fuel use, such as more coal burning in Europe and increased gas consumption in North America.

And while fossil fuel prices remain high, it's not certain these energy sources won't make a comeback.

In China, which burns more than half the world's coal, consumption was down over the first half of the year amid strong hydropower generation. But as a historic drought hit the upper reaches of the Yangtze River in July and August, hydropower plummeted and widespread power outages ensued, causing coal use to rise.

Still, China is also the world's biggest clean energy investor, and the pipeline for wind and solar projects has more than doubled to 320 gigawatts currently, from about 144 gigawatts in July 2021, the report said. BLOOMBERG

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