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Coal caught in the EU ‘death spiral’

New research underlines the changes in Europe’s energy: the five biggest power generators saw a 37% loss in value and coal generation drastically fell.

The biggest five generators – Electricitie de France (EDF), GDF Suez, Enel, E.ON and RWE, which collectively represent nearly 60% of Europe’s electricity generation – collectively lost more than €100 billion in 2008–13, according to a Climate Tracker Initiative report.

No single factor or event is wholly responsible for the financial underperformance of Europe’s electricity utilities. Instead, a series of factors including renewable energy technologies, fuel costs and business model decisions have caused European utilities to lose value.

Carbon pricing, energy efficiency and renewable energy are expected to further impact fossil generation in Europe.

Under mining coal?

EU coal-fired generation fell 4.2% in 2008–13. But some of the largest utilities have maintained significant coal capacity.

This may change quickly: the report argues that ignoring the transition to a low carbon economy will have serious consequences. Utilities are already restructuring to split fossil fuels and renewables business.

Investors are taking fright, the Economist reports, to the delight of environmentalists concerned at the water use associated with mining coal such as anthracite and the mercury, acids and soot associated with it burning.

Despite high hopes for so-called ‘clean coal’ technology, cheaper renewables and greater environmental awareness will likely see coal’s popularity continue to decline.

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