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German thermal coal imports in 2019 forecast flat at 30 million mt

Highlights

2018 coal imports fell 17% on year, after 16% drop in 2017

Plant closures, renewables gains to be offset by mine closure, Hambach

Coal phase-out, coal-to-gas switching key uncertainties

London — German imports of thermal coal in 2019 were forecast to remain unchanged at 30 million mt after having fallen heavily over the past two years, the association of German coal importers VDKi said Friday.

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Thermal coal imports dropped 17%, or 6 million mt, in 2018, following a similar decline in 2017, the association said.

Key uncertainties ahead included coal-to-gas switching trends levels, replacement of thermal generation by renewables and Germany's planned phase-out of coal-fired power, it said.

The VDKi estimated 3 million mt of coal demand would be erased by growing renewable generation in 2019, entirely offsetting an end to domestic coal mining.

Coal plants planned to close this year would cut coal demand by a further 1.7 million mt, while there would be a slight gain in coal burn at other plants due to the Hambach lignite mine restrictions, which the VDKi said would be shared between gas and hard coal plants.

MARGINS SWING IN FAVOR OF GAS

In October, the VDKi predicted an annual 4 million mt demand boost for coal from the Hambach restrictions.

Clean dark spread margins for coal plant have since dropped, with clean spark spread margins for modern CCGT units moving ahead of the oldest coal units in the merit order, data from S&P Global Platts showed.

Increased coal-to-gas switching potential was focused on this summer after gas prices fell faster than those for coal at the start of the year.

Demand for coking coal by Germany's steel industry was forecast to rise slightly to 15 million mt for 2019, the VDKi said, adding that was mainly due to the closure of the final coal mines in Germany at the end of last year.

--Andreas Franke, andreas.franke@spglobal.com

--Edited by Dan Lalor, newsdesk@spglobal.com