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Can US coal bounce back?

April 15, 2013
KEYWORDS coal industry
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coal industry
The latest EIA Short-Term Energy Outlook revealed that U.S. coal exports are expected to drop to 107 million short tons.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has issued a revised forecast on coal exports for the next two years. The new prediction is lower that than the previous one and the change is due to a combination of factors that are expected to result in lower amounts of coal being shipped out of the United States.

The latest EIA Short-Term Energy Outlook revealed that U.S. coal exports are expected to drop to 107 million short tons (97.7m metric tonnes) in 2013, compared to the record high 126 million short tons in 2012, but this is expected to pick up slightly in 2014 to about 109 million short tons. Previously, in its March forecast, the EIA predicted that total exports for both 2013 and 2014 would reach 110 million short tons.

The main factors that contribute to the revised forecast are the slow economic growth in Europe, a subdued demand for electricity and fierce competition from coal exporters from other parts of the world. Europe is the largest market for U.S. coal and its own market conditions and economic stability are of major importance to coal exports from the Unites States, the EIA report noted. As far as prices go, EIA expect a minor increase over the next two years, up from the average delivered coal price of $2.40 per MMBtu in 2012, to $2.41 per MMBtu in 2013 and $2.45 per MMBtu in 2014.

RELATED: Coal use in UK rises in 2012

Meanwhile, EIA announced that coal had gained some of the market share it had previously lost to natural gas on the domestic power market. Its analysis found that the actual and projected natural gas prices during the first three quarters of 2013 are substantially higher than in the same period last year, which means that natural gas-powered electricity generators are likely to lose some of the market share gained from coal generation last year.

Over the course of 2013, coal generation in the United States is predicted to rise by 7.8 percent, thanks to power generators increasing their coal capacity, the EIA estimated. The increase is fueled by higher natural gas prices relative to coal and this would bring the share of total coal generation to 39.9 percent in 2013, up from 37.4 percent last year. By comparison, in 2011, coal had a 42.3 percent fuel share, EIA said.

Overall, the total volume of electricity generated in the United States is expected to grow by one percent in 2013 and by 0.9 percent in 2014, the report stated. This includes nuclear power supply, which in 2012 averaged 2,102 gigawatthours per day - the lowest level in almost a decade, according to EIA.

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