US coal stockpiles in April regained to levels not seen in three years by steadily increasing to 152 million tons after hitting the lowest level in more than a decade in March 2019, the country's Energy Information Administration (EIA) said in a statement on Monday.
Total US coal stockpiles have increased as coal-fired generation has fallen to a 42-year low, the EIA said.
The agency explained that coal consumed by US power plants follows the seasonal pattern in overall electricity generation; coal consumption is typically highest in the summer and winter months. Because coal-fired power plants are consuming more coal in the warmest summer months and coldest winter months, coal stocks at power plants are often at their lowest in August and February.
In April 2020, US coal power plants had, on average, about 114 days of burn, which shows how long these stockpiles would last, assuming the power plants receive no additional coal.
As the coal-fired power plants use different types of coal, the EIA said it tracks days of burn based on coal rank, namely bituminous coal, mostly produced in states such as West Virginia, Illinois, and Pennsylvania, and sub-bituminous coal, mostly produced in Wyoming.
For bituminous coal-fired power plants, the average number of days of burn reached 122 days in April 2020 while for sub-bituminous coal-fired power plants, the average number of days of burn was slightly lower at 105 days in April 2020.
-Coal share in electricity generation mix to drop from second largest to fourth largest
According to the EIA’s short-term energy outlook, coal stockpiles are predicted to remain relatively steady through 2021. Coal is expected to drop from the second-largest share of US electricity generation mix in 2019 to the fourth-largest share in 2020, displaced by both nuclear and renewable generation.
In 2020, the EIA forecast that coal would provide 683 million megawatt-hours, or 18%, of total electricity generation—less than natural gas at 1,510 million megawatt-hours equivalent to 40%, nuclear at 795 million megawatt-hours at 21%, and renewables at 756 million megawatt-hours at 20%.
-US power sector may consume lowest coal in 2020 since 1972
To provide such levels of electricity, the Administration forecast that the US power sector would consume about 377 million short tons of coal. If realized, this amount of US power sector coal consumption in 2020 would be the lowest since 1972.
Coal-fired electricity generation will reclaim a small portion of generation share in 2021, averaging 22% for the year, less than natural gas at 35% but more than nuclear at 21% and on par with renewables at 22%, the EIA said.
By Sibel Morrow