The biggest use of coal worldwide is the generation of electricity, which accounts for a significant 41% of global generation.6 A cheaper and more reliable alternative to many other sources, this electricity is used to power households, cities, businesses and technologies across the globe.
The other leading use of coal is in the manufacture of steel and cement products. Many items we come across day to day have used coal somewhere in their production. This covers everything from skyscrapers to the garden tap, to the cars we drive and the smart phone in your pocket.
More surprisingly, coal is used in smaller amounts by the paper, chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Specialist products such as carbon fibre and filters (in water purification and kidney dialysis machines) use coal, and many other products, such as aspirins, soaps, plastics and nylon use coal by-products.7
Here at home, coal is used to make about 71% of all electricity on the grid, including up to 87% in NSW, 86% in Victoria and 75% in Queensland.8 For decades coal has been providing low-cost, reliable energy to Australian households and industry. In fact, our high standard of living and economic growth can be linked directly back to this affordable asset.
Australia really is a lucky country, with the fourth largest deposits in the world. On average, this important export brings in a massive $40 billion every year to our national income. Australia’s coal exports are expected to boost national income by around $250 billion between 2014-15 and 2019-20. And by 2017 Australia is forecast to overtake Indonesia as the world’s biggest coal exporter.9 Coal is Australia’s oldest export10 and is currently our second largest earner, just behind iron ore.
Top four national shares of proven coal reserves as at December 2014 (billions of tonnes)
Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2015
International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook Special Report on Energy and Climate Change: Energy and CO2 trends in the INDC Scenario: World INCD Scenario data tables, Paris, last updated 15 June 2015.
Department of Industry and Science, Resources and Energy Quarterly – June Quarter 2015: Commodity data, released on 30 June 2015, Canberra and Resources and Energy Quarterly – March Quarter 2015: Commodity data, released on 18 March 2015, Canberra.