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total net summer capacity of retired coal units

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Electric Generator Report and Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory

Between 2010 and the first quarter of 2019, U.S. power companies announced the retirement of more than 546 coal-fired power units, totaling about 102 gigawatts (GW) of generating capacity. Plant owners intend to retire another 17 GW of coal-fired capacity by 2025, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory. After a coal unit retires, the power plant site goes through a complex, multi-year process that includes decommissioning, remediation, and redevelopment.

Coal-fired power plants in the United States remain under significant economic pressure. Many plant owners have retired their coal-fired units because of relatively flat electricity demand growth and increased competition from natural gas and renewables. In 2018, plant owners retired more than 13 GW of coal-fired generation capacity, which is the second-highest annual total for U.S. coal retirements in EIA’s dataset; the highest total for coal retirements, at 15 GW, occurred in 2015.

The annual number of retired U.S. coal units has declined since 2015, and the configuration of retired coal capacity has changed. Coal-fired units that retired after 2015 in the United States have generally been larger and younger than the units that retired before 2015. The U.S. coal units that retired in 2018 had an average capacity of 350 megawatts (MW) and an average age of 46 years, compared with an average capacity of 129 MW and average age of 56 years for the coal units that retired in 2015.

characteristics of retired coal-fired units

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Electric Generator Report and Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory

During a coal-fired plant’s decommissioning process, the electric-generating equipment—such as precipitators, boilers, turbines, and generators—are shut down and operating permits are terminated. Unused coal and materials associated with both the generation process and the buildings and structures are removed. The electric-generating equipment may be used at other plants or sold as scrap.

Unlike nuclear plant decommissioning, which is closely regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the physical process of decommissioning a coal-fired power plant is not as firmly regulated in terms of specific procedure. The time required to physically decommission a coal-fired power plant varies and sometimes overlaps with remediation and redevelopment.

four main phases of coal power plant decommissioning

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Remediation involves cleaning up hazardous materials to meet federal and state requirements. Remediation of coal combustion residuals (CCR), commonly known as coal ash, is the primary focus in coal plant decommissioning because it is one of the largest U.S. industrial waste streams. CCR can be disposed in onsite landfills or surface impoundments, known as coal ash ponds. CCR also can be moved offsite to be recycled into products such as concrete or wallboard.

The redevelopment of a decommissioned coal-fired plant may involve repurposing the site for another generation technology or some other commercial, industrial, or municipal application. Coal-fired power plants typically occupy land in or near downtown areas or along rivers, and they usually have access to railways, roadways, water, sewers, and other infrastructure.

Repowering a plant with natural gas-fired technology, such as a combined-cycle natural gas turbine plant, requires significantly less space than coal-fired configurations, which could cover hundreds of acres. Repowering a former coal-fired plant with natural gas-fired elements is a viable option for power providers because much of the critical infrastructure is already in place, including transmission lines, substations, and water.

coal electricity generating capacity retirements EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) EIA
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The United States now exports crude oil to more destinations than it imports from

As U.S. crude oil export volumes have increased to an average of 2.8 million barrels per day (b/d) in the first seven months of 2019, the number of destinations (which includes countries, territories, autonomous regions, and other administrative regions) that receive U.S. exports has also increased. Earlier this year, the number of U.S. crude oil export destinations surpassed the number of sources of U.S. crude oil imports that EIA tracks.

In 2009, the United States imported crude oil from as many as of 37 sources per month. In the first seven months of 2019, the largest number of sources in any month fell to 27. As the number of sources fell, the number of destinations for U.S. crude oil exports rose. In the first seven months of 2019, the United States exported crude oil to as many as 31 destinations per month.

This rise in U.S. export destinations coincides with the late 2015 lifting of restrictions on exporting domestic crude oil. Before the restrictions were lifted, U.S. crude oil exports almost exclusively went to Canada. Between January 2016 (the first full month of unrestricted U.S. crude oil exports) and July 2019, U.S. crude oil production increased by 2.6 million b/d, and export volumes increased by 2.2 million b/d.

monthly U.S. crude oil production and exports

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Petroleum Supply Monthly

The United States has also been importing crude oil from fewer of these sources largely because of the increase in domestic crude oil production. Most of this increase has been relatively light-sweet crude oil, but most U.S. refineries are configured to process medium- to heavy-sour crude oil. U.S. refineries have accommodated this increase in production by displacing imports of light and medium crude oils from countries other than Canada and by increasing refinery utilization rates.

Conversely, the United States has exported crude oil to more destinations because of growing demand for light-sweet crude oil abroad. Several infrastructure changes have allowed the United States to export this crude oil. New, expanded, or reversed pipelines have been delivering crude oil from production centers to export terminals. Export terminals have been expanded to accommodate greater crude oil tanker traffic, larger crude oil tankers, and larger cargo sizes.

More stringent national and international regulations limiting the sulfur content of transportation fuels are also affecting demand for light-sweet crude oil. Many of the less complex refineries outside of the United States cannot process and remove sulfur from heavy-sour crude oils and are better suited to process light-sweet crude oil into transportation fuels with lower sulfur content.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s monthly export data for crude oil and petroleum products come from the U.S. Census Bureau. For export values, Census trade data records the destinations of trade volumes, which may not be the ultimate destinations of the shipments.

October, 23 2019
Recalibrating Singapore’s Offshore Marine Industry

The state investment firm Temasek Holdings has made an offer to purchase control of Singaporean conglomerate Keppel Corp for S$4.1 billion. News of this has reverberated around the island, sparking speculation about what the new ownership structure could bring – particularly in the Singaporean rig-building sector.

Temasek already owns 20.5% of Keppel Corp. Its offer to increase its stake to 51% for S$4.1 billion would see it gain majority shareholding, allowing a huge amount of strategic flexibility. The deal would be through Temasek’s wholly-owned subsidiary Kyanite Investment Holdings, offering S$7.35 per share of Keppel Corp, a 26% premium of the traded price at that point. The financial analyst community have remarked that the bid is ‘fair’ and ‘reasonable’, and there appears to be no political headwinds against the deal being carried out with the exception of foreign and domestic regulatory approval.

The implications of the deal are far-ranging. Keppel Corp’s business ranges from property to infrastructure to telecommunications, including Keppel Land and a partial stake in major Singapore telco M1. Temasek has already said that it does not intend to delist and privatise Keppel Corp, and has a long-standing history of not interfering or getting involved in the operations or decisions of its portfolio companies.

This might be different. Speculation is that this move, if successful could lead to a restructuring of the Singapore offshore and marine industry. Since 2015, Singapore’s rig-building industry has been in the doldrums as global oil prices tumbled. Although prices have recovered, cost-cutting and investment reticence have provided a slower recovery for the industry. In Singapore, this has affected the two major rigbuilders – Keppel O&M and its rival Sembcorp Marine. In 2018, Keppel O&M reported a loss of over SS$100 million (although much improved from its previous loss of over SS$800 million); Sembcorp Marine, too, faces a challenging market, with a net loss of nearly 50 million. Temasek itself is already a majority shareholder in Sembcorp Marine.

Once Keppel Corp is under Temasek’s control, this could lead to consolidation in the industry. There are many pros to this, mainly the merging of rig-building operations and shipyards will put Singapore is a stronger position against giant shipyards of China and South Korea, which have been on an asset buying spree. With the overhang of the Sete Brasil scandal over as both Keppel O&M and Sembcorp Marine have settled corruption allegations over drillship and rig contracts, a merger is now increasingly likely. It would sort of backtrack from Temasek’s recent direction in steering away from fossil fuel investments (it had decided to not participate in the upcoming Saudi Aramco IPO for environmental concerns) but strengthening the Singaporeans O&M industry has national interest implications. As a representative of Temasek said of its portfolio – ‘(we are trying to) re-purpose some businesses to try and grasp the demands of tomorrow.’ So, if there is to be a tomorrow, then Singapore’s two largest offshore players need to start preparing for that now in the face of tremendous competition. And once again it will fall on the Singaporean government, through Temasek, to facilitate an arranged marriage for the greater good.

Keppel and Sembcorp O&M at a glance:

Keppel Offshore & Marine, 2018

  • Revenue: S$1.88 billion (up from S$1.80 billion)
  • Net Profit: -S$109 million (up from -S$826 million)
  • Contracts secured: S$1.7 billion

Sembcorp Marine, 2018

  • Turnover: S$4.88 billion (up from S$3.03 billion)
  • Net Profit: -S$48 million (down from S$157 million)
  • Contracts secured: S$1.2 billion
October, 22 2019
Global energy consumption driven by more electricity in residential, commercial buildings

Energy used in the buildings sector—which includes residential and commercial structures—accounted for 20% of global delivered energy consumption in 2018. In its International Energy Outlook 2019 (IEO2019) Reference case, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that global energy consumption in buildings will grow by 1.3% per year on average from 2018 to 2050. In countries that are not part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (non-OECD countries), EIA projects that energy consumed in buildings will grow by more than 2% per year, or about five times the rate of OECD countries.

building sector energy consumption

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2019 Reference case

Electricity—the main energy source for lighting, space cooling, appliances, and equipment—is the fastest-growing energy source in residential and commercial buildings. EIA expects that rising population and standards of living in non-OECD countries will lead to an increase in the demand for electricity-consuming appliances and personal equipment.

EIA expects that in the early 2020s, total electricity use in buildings in non-OECD countries will surpass electricity use in OECD countries. By 2050, buildings in non-OECD countries will collectively use about twice as much electricity as buildings in OECD countries.

average annual change in buildings sector electricity consumption

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2019 Reference case
Note: OECD is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In the IEO2019 Reference case, electricity use by buildings in China is projected to increase more than any other country in absolute terms, but India will experience the fastest growth rate in buildings electricity use from 2018 to 2050. EIA expects that use of electricity by buildings in China will surpass that of the United States by 2030. By 2050, EIA expects China’s buildings will account for more than one-fifth of the electricity consumption in buildings worldwide.

As the quality of life in emerging economies improves with urbanization, rising income, and access to electricity, EIA projects that electricity’s share of the total use of energy in buildings will nearly double in non-OECD countries, from 21% in 2018 to 38% in 2050. By contrast, electricity’s share of delivered energy consumption in OECD countries’ buildings will decrease from 24% to 21%.

building sector electricity consumption per capita by region

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, International Energy Outlook 2019 Reference case
Note: OECD is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The per capita use of electricity in buildings in OECD countries will increase 0.6% per year between 2018 and 2050. The relatively slow growth is affected by improvements in building codes and improvements in the efficiency of appliances and equipment. Despite a slower rate of growth than non-OECD countries, OECD per capita electricity use in buildings will remain higher than in non-OECD countries because of more demand for energy-intensive services such as space cooling.

In non-OECD countries, the IEO2019 Reference case projects that per capita electricity use in buildings will grow by 2.5% per year, as access to energy expands and living standards rise, leading to increased use of electric-intensive appliances and equipment. This trend is particularly evident in India and China, where EIA projects that per capita electricity use in buildings will increase by 5.3% per year in India and 3.6% per year in China from 2018 to 2050.

October, 22 2019