Coal stockpiles rise as demand for coal-fired generation falls

Published on August 20, 2020 by Dave Kovaleski

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U.S. coal stockpiles have increased to 152 million tons as coal-fired generation has fallen to a 42-year low, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported.

The 152 million tons is the highest level in three years. This comes as EIA expects coal to drop from providing the second-largest share of the U.S. electricity generation mix in 2019 to the fourth-largest share in 2020. Both nuclear and renewable generation has surpassed it. In 2020, coal will provide 683 million megawatt hours, or 18 percent of total electricity generation, in 2020. By comparison, natural gas provides 1,510 million megawatt hours (40 percent), nuclear provides 795 million megawatt hours (21 percent), and renewables generates 756 million megawatt hours (20 percent).

Overall, EIA expects the U.S. power sector will consume about 377 million short tons of coal this year. If realized, this amount of coal consumed by the U.S. power sector in 2020 would be the lowest since 1972. However, in 2021, EIA expects coal-fired electricity generation to reclaim a small portion of generation share in 2021 – up to 22 percent. That remains behind natural gas (35 percent) but more than nuclear (21 percent) and on par with renewables (22 percent).

EIA expects coal stockpiles to remain relatively steady through 2021.

EIA also calculates how long these stockpiles would last by measuring days of burn. In April 2020, U.S. coal power plants had about 114 days of burn, on average.