As the world heads boldly towards a bright and clean renewable energy future, surely we will be shipping less and less coal around the planet.
But that doesn't seem toe be the case in the immediate future, because the specialised coal terminal AS Baltic Coal Terminal (BCT) at the port of Ventspils is busier than ever. Not only do they continue to ship coal to Europe and around the world, but they predict an increase in the total volume of coal shipped in 2022, up to 3 million tonnes.
The numbers went down for all kinds of freight shipped from Baltic sea ports last year, mainly due to the Covid-19 pandemic and other geopolitical factors. Sea freight shipped form Latvia was down by 45%, and the coal shipping segment was no exception, with a drop of 79.6%.
But, speaking recently to Ventspilnieks.lv, BCT board member Ilze Bērziņa, said that the company has been working hard on restoring the flow of coal lately in order to maintain operations in accordance with the terminal’s profile. The result – in October Navios Sphera freight ship was loaded with 80 500 tonnes of coal from Kazakhstan and sent around Europe.
This cooperation with Kazakhstan continues and BCT will continue sending coal freights across the continent.
What is happening on the global coal market?
The situation on the global and European market was changed by the rapid change of the natural gas price, which, in turn, caused a rapid climb in demand for fossil fuels in Europe. In 2020 global coal consumption reached 7.242 billion tonnes. China remained a stable leader when it comes to coal consumption. Last year this country consumed 3.814 billion tonnes of coal or 52.7%, whereas Europe consumed a mere 0.386 billion tonnes or 5.3% of the global consumed volume. It should be said that Russia is among the leaders in coal exports (210 million tonnes). Australia is the leader with 366 million tonnes and Indonesia is second with 341 million tonnes.
In 2020 Russia exported 58.5 million tonnes of coal freights through north-western sea ports, Riga, Ventspils and Liepaja included. The lion’s share (55.8 million tonnes) went through Russia’s own ports. Only 2.7 million tonnes of coals went through Latvia’s sea ports. Compared to 2019, the volume of exports of Russian coals through Latvia declined 81.7% last year.
Even with those declines, and whichever ports around the world it passes through that is a huge volume of coal for a world that is supposedly moving away from it.
BCT think the coal future is still bright
Ventspils Commercial Port board chairman and AS Baltic Coal Terminal board member Valērijs Pašuta is confident that this was just a temporary blip and that they will be shipping as much coal as ever next year:
"Unfortunately, last year due to the geopolitical situation and the pandemic, BCT has had to operate under force majeure circumstances. While in 2019 freight turnover for BCT was 3.9 million tonnes, in 2020 the volume was only 398 thousand tonnes. As a result we’ve had to say goodbye to many of our employees. Others were switched to part-time. This year, from Q1 onward, we have observed a return of coal freights. We plan that by the end of the year the volume will exceed 500 000 tonnes. As for next year, we have reason to believe the situation will improve and we will be able to take on more employees. The company’s management is grateful to employees for the effort they put into overcoming this difficult situation. The company has invested a great deal into attraction of new clients, which is proven by the Kazakh coal shipment sent to Europe and consumers elsewhere in the world. For example, in November MG Hammond freight ship carried freights to South Africa and Chile. According to current forecasts, in 2022 freight turnover may increase to 3 million tonnes."
As for future forecasts, Valērijs Pašuta says BCT’s operations remain influenced by political and external factors like the long-term strategy employed by the Russian Federation, which is aimed at diverting freights towards the country’s sea ports, as well as the ongoing situation on global markets and Europe’s Green Course.
More than forty countries of the world agreed at the last UN Climate Conference to drop the use of coal for energy production. For example, Germany – one of the biggest consumers of coal in Europe – plans to drop the use of coal entirely after 2038. The EU has also collectively agreed to reduce emissions of CO2 and small particles.
Pašuta is also quick to stress that BCT is a modern, efficient and ecologically clean terminal that already meets all requirements of Europe’s green course. These mostly consist of limiting the volume of fine particle matter that is emitted during loading and unloading. That's all well and good, but just reducing the volume of coal would be even better.