Why world's coal regions hold the key to renewable future

By utilising these strengths, communities in coalmining areas can not only survive, but thrive in the renewable energy and zero carbon industry revolution that is already well underway as coalmining declines.

HARNESSING OPPORTUNITY: Transitioning away from coal is happening across much of Europe, including Spain (pictured). Coal regions, such as the Hunter, offer valuable assets for the low-carbon transition.
 HARNESSING OPPORTUNITY: Transitioning away from coal is happening across much of Europe, including Spain (pictured). Coal regions, such as the Hunter, offer valuable assets for the low-carbon transition.

In the wake of COVID-19, Europe is determined to get three things right with one shot: drive its carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, boost its economic growth and reduce inequality across the continent through a European Green Deal.

Part and parcel of this on the path towards carbon neutrality is the transition away from coal. Two of the big barriers used to be the high cost of renewable energy and the significant coal generation on the continent. That has changed.

Wind and solar are now cheaper than conventional electricity generation. Last year coal demand in the European Union dropped by 19 per cent and phase outs are happening across much of Europe, including Germany, Spain, France and Italy.

While the UK has left the Union, it continues to be one of the key European decarbonisation champions. In eight years it reduced its coal generation from 40 per cent to almost zero and announced final coal closure in 2024. At the same time, it became a global leader in offshore wind power.

Coal regions are focusing more on the social consequences of coal closure that led to the establishment of the Just Transition Mechanism - a combination of knowledge sharing and financial support. The initial idea of simply retraining coal sector workers and compensating them if they lose their jobs is evolving into something more ambitious. The idea to turn coal regions into low-carbon industrial zones is emerging.

Read the full article by Julie Popov in the Newcastle Herald, 28th July 2020