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German thermal coal imports slump to record low in 2023

(Montel) German thermal coal imports slumped 40% in 2023 to a record low of below 19m tonnes amid continued efforts to phase out usage of the fuel, provisional industry data showed on Wednesday.

Imports totalled an estimated 18.6m tonnes, compared with 30.8m tonnes in 2022 and were therefore below the previous low of 19.9m tonnes, achieved during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, according to the German Coal Importers' Association (VDKI).

Total hard coal imports – including coking coal, which is used in steel production – were down 26% on the year at 33m tonnes, but still fractionally above the multi-year low of 31.3m tonnes reached in 2022.

“The downward trend has accelerated considerably in the last decade, as a result of the coal phase-out decisions,” VDKI said in a note.

Energy security
Germany's government hopes the country will phase out coal for power generation by 2030.

However, energy security considerations are fanning a debate about a possible "backup function" for the nation's remaining coal-fired power plants, VDKI said, citing Russia's war on Ukraine as an example.

“Russia has now almost completely disappeared from the German hard coal import statistics, as was to be expected as a result of the coal embargo on Russian exports [since August 2022],” the industry group said.

Germany imported 2% of its hard coal last year from Russia, although this was material that had previously been placed in storage within the EU before the embargo came into force.

“The main beneficiaries of the loss of Russian thermal coal in particular were the US, Colombia and, most recently, South Africa,” it said, pointing to a “clear upward trend” for South African supply.

Of the total 2023 hard coal imports, the US provided 28%, followed narrowly by Australia with 27% – primarily of coking coal.

Colombia and South Africa provided 15% and 12% of Germany’s imported coal last year, respectively.