By Jonathan Saul
LONDON (Reuters) – European buyers have had to temporarily set aside green aspirations in a rush for coal as the region’s energy crisis deepens, ramping up shipments from Australia, South America, Colombia and South Africa while tightening the global market.
Russia has resumed pumping gas via its biggest pipeline to Germany after a 10-day outage, allaying some of Europe’s immediate supply fears but not enough to end the threat of rationing to cope with potential winter shortages.
The European Union has told member states to cut gas usage by 15% until March as an emergency step.
Here are some details on coal imports into Europe.
Russia supplies 70% of all Europe’s thermal coal imports, which is used in power generation, but that supply has to be replaced from mid-August when an EU ban on Russian coal imports comes into force.
Thermal coal is considered one of the most carbon-heavy energy sources and Europe had been weaning itself off the fuel to meet pollution regulations and climate targets.
Germany is trying to extend the life of 10 gigawatts (GW) of mothballed coal capacity until March 2024.
“Poland, and to a lesser extent Germany, can substitute gas use by gas-fired power plants by running coal plants at full capacity, provided that enough coal is available,” ING bank said in a report.
Analysts say imports of thermal coal from the 27 member EU bloc plus the UK will be 43% higher by next year versus this year, and this will result in an additional 10 million tonnes of CO2 released into the atmosphere.
Certain grades of Russian coal have been favoured by European buyers. Producers such as Australia, the United States, Colombia and South Africa can supply those grades but might not be able to fully fill the gap due to domestic demand and global competition for supplies.
SOURCES OF SUPPLY
According to seabourne data based on ship tracking by ship broker Braemar, European countries imported 7.9 million tonnes of thermal coal in June, more than doubling year-on-year, although nearly 2 million tonnes lower than in April and May.
Imports from Colombia reached 1.2 million tonnes in June, compared with just 287,000 tonnes in June last year, despite heavy rainfall curbing production, Braemar analysis showed.
Australian thermal coal purchases in Europe have continued to increase in recent months. In June, thermal coal imports totalled 1.1 million tonnes, the highest on record.
Imports from the United States in June reached 618,000 tonnes, rising by 27.9% year-on-year, but a 62.7% drop month-on-month and the lowest level since January.
Some 854,000 tonnes arrived from South Africa in June versus no shipments in June last year as miners continued to ease rail constraints in the country.
Data from maritime and commodities data platform Shipfix showed there has separately been steady growth in imports from Indonesia in recent weeks – a previously less active source of European imports – and highlighting the scramble for stocks.
Shipfix data also pointed to imports from African producers, which are small global suppliers, including from Mozambique, Namibia and Nigeria.
RUSSIAN IMPORTS FALL
Russian imports into European countries have already started to decline and reached 2.3 million tonnes in June, which was the lowest level in the past 12 months, Braemar data showed.
According to separate analysis Shipfix, there were no new orders for the week of July 18 to transport coal from Russia to Europe, underscoring the ban already starting to bite.
(Reporting by Jonathan Saul, editing by Nina Chestney and Mark Potter)