Since 1973, coal consumption has grown faster than any other form of energy. Growth in coal consumption has been critical in providing electricity access in developing countries.
Based on the results of three different estimates, this paper finds that between 1990 and 2010, about 830 million people—the vast majority in developing countries—gained access to electricity due to coal-fired generation. Indeed, roughly twice as many people gained access to electricity due to coal as due to natural gas; and for every person who obtained access to electricity over that period from non-hydro renewable sources, such as wind and solar, about 13 gained access due to coal.
Coal-fired-generation capacity continues to grow in wealthy countries, too. For electricity production, no other energy source can currently match the black fuel when it comes to cost, scale, and reliability. In all, more than 500 gigawatts of new coal-fired capacity will likely be built worldwide by 2040. Given coal's pivotal role in providing electricity to poor and wealthy countries alike, it is highly unlikely that global carbon-dioxide emissions will fall anytime soon.