With the EU’s coal import ban on Russia coming into effect in August, a steady stream of coal importers are loading their purchases onto ships bound for Europe on the docks of the United States, Australia, Indonesia, Colombia, and other countries. The latest data from Kpler, an international commodities data provider, for July shows that European coal importers have increased their coal imports by more than 1/3 compared to the same period last year.
Even the end of the transportation chain is feeling unprecedented demand. “The latest coal shipments from coal importers are crazy!” “Our coal buyers keep shipping coal to storage,” Andreas, a small coal trader in Germany’s Ruhr region, told the picture newspaper on the 25th. He said the contact phone numbers of coal buyers have been ringing non-stop since June. In previous summers, he shipped an average of one truckload of coal a week to direct coal buyers, and now he is shipping almost one truckload a day to direct coal buyers.
Many EU countries are now facing coal shortages due to a surge in thermal power demand
EU news site Euractiv reports that EU countries are restarting thermal power plants and ramping up a coal-fired generation to reduce their energy dependence on Russia. Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, and France plan to put shuttered coal-fired power plants on standby to be ready for activation in case of gas supply disruptions this winter and next spring. The Netherlands has also changed its previous legislation to stop operating coal-fired power plants. Its thermal power plants will again run at total capacity by 2023. Central and Eastern European countries such as the Czech Republic also need coal more than initially planned.
Germany, Europe’s largest economy, currently 40 percent of its steam coal importer imports from Russia. And Poland gets about 75 percent of its steam coal importer imports from Russia. “It seems that overnight, about 8 million tons of coal disappeared from the market,” Polish energy expert Czyzewski recently confessed on TVN TV, saying that it is not easy to find a substitute for Russian steam coal imports.
With coal buyers from EU countries looking for coal worldwide, coal importers worldwide imports have increased dramatically. Bloomberg said that coal imports to the Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam (ARA) region, Europe’s energy and commodities transportation year on year to 26.9 million tons in the first half of this year. Australian coal giant Whitehaven Coal has received delivery requests from coal buyers in many European countries. The company has also supplied 70,000 tons of coal to Ukraine through a government aid package.
Meanwhile, Asia-Pacific coal traders are also actively exporting to European coal buyers. “Indonesia could ease tensions in the coal importer worldwide import market,” said the German NTG24 news network, adding that Indonesia is the world’s largest coal exporter, with about 455 million tons of coal exports in 2021. Australia is in second place with about 350 million tons of coal exports, and Russian coal exports are about 220 million tons.
In addition, coal from South America is being shipped more to European coal importers’ import ports. “Colombian coal is becoming more and more popular between coal buyers worldwide.” El Cerrejon in northwestern Colombia is one of the world’s largest hard coal mines, German TV1 said. About 30 million tons of coal are shipped annually to countries where coal importers are located worldwide. German energy companies STEAG and EnBW are important customers, and Germany’s largest energy companies, Uniper and RWE, are also increasing their direct purchases of coal from Colombia.
The EU is also importing coal from the U.S., South Africa
The EU is also importing coal from the U.S., South Africa, and Mozambique and is also turning to non-traditional coal suppliers, with Russia’s Kommersant 26 reporting that Kazakhstan shipped 1.5 million tons of coal to EU countries’ coal importers during January-May this year, almost twice as much as in all of 2021, according to Eurostat data. Since March, Kazakhstan’s monthly coal exports to EU coal buyers have reached 300,000-400,000 tons. In the same period last year, Kazakhstan’s coal exports to European coal buyers were only 60,000-70,000 tons.
Before sanctions were imposed on Russia, Russia accounted for 65% of coal imports to EU coal buyers, and such a volume is difficult to replace. Analysts say Kazakhstan could significantly increase coal supplies to EU coal importers because its coal is suitable for European power plants.
However, the large amount of coal imports has also led to severe congestion at European ports. By June, 71 bulk carriers were at anchor near Antwerp, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam, three times the average of the last five years. Wait times for coal ships are currently about ten days, and low water levels on the Rhine River are also causing delays.
According to German Press TV, one of the biggest problems for German coal importers is the transportation of coal. In the fall, hundreds of additional freight trains will have to carry large quantities of imported hard coal to German power plants. But the railroads appear to be barely prepared for the task. “Since 2016, our industry has shrunk significantly. Between 2016 and 2020, our volumes are down by about 50 percent.” Alexander Bett, president of the German coal importers Association, said adjustments had been made to logistics, personnel, and materials. Germany has established a priority for coal shipments.