The import price of coal has risen sharply since the fourth quarter of 2003. The price rise is less steep in the EMU countries due to the strong euro. The price rise is due in part to the sharp increase in the use of coal in Asia, in particular in China. The price has now stabilised.
Coal import prices per tonne
Coal in energy supply
Since the discovery of natural gas, the importance of coal has diminished rapidly. In 1962–1964 domestic consumption was still close to 19 million tonnes a year. When gas arrived as a cheap alternative, the use of coal fell rapidly to less than 4 million tonnes in 1973–1975. Coal consumption increased again in the 1980’s and 1990’s in order to reduce dependence on the oil producing countries. This increased use was mainly by coal fired energy plants. Currently consumption is back at the 1965 level.
Domestic energy consumption, 1950–2005
Use of coal
Coal is mainly used to generate electricity, in the basic metal industry, and for the production of cokes from hard coal.
In 1999, the use of coal in electricity plants fell because the energy market was liberalised. Energy companies started to import more electricity, and the electricity production in coal-fired plants was reduced. The reduction in 2005 is mainly due to the fact that coal is substituted by biomass.
The use of coal in the base metal industry has risen substantially since the mid 1980’s due to a technical innovation in the process used in blast furnaces.
The reduction in the use of coal in cokes production, which has taken place since 1999, is due to the reorganisation of this branch of industry, halving the number of cokes plants.
Use of coal by destination
Imports and trade
In the early 1980’s, the coal used in the Netherlands came from Europe, North America and Oceania. Currently, coal is mainly brought in from South Africa and South America. Colombia and Venezuela play a major role in the import of coal.
The favourable geographic location of the Netherlands makes it a major trade and distribution centre for coal. In 2005 over 35 percent of the 20.1 million tonnes of imported coal was exported from the Netherlands.
Henk Verduin and Joost Huurman