En-ROADS User Guide


Discourage or encourage mining coal and burning it in power plants. Coal is the most harmful fossil fuel fossil fuels: Coal, oil, and natural gas. Fuel derived from the remains of ancient plants and animals. in terms of carbon emissions, as well as in air pollutants that cause severe health impacts. It is a dominant source of energy globally, however, because it is relatively inexpensive to mine and transport. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) can capture some emissions from coal, but it is not yet used widely and faces barriers to deployment.


Discouraging coal:

  • Government policies that phase out power plants or make them more expensive in any way, such as taxes on coal.
  • Financial services industry (e.g., banks) or global development institutions (e.g., World Bank) limiting access to financial capital for new coal mining, refining, and power plant infrastructure.

Big Messages🔗

Key Dynamics🔗

  • Impact. When coal is discouraged, watch the brown area of Coal go down in the “Global Sources of Primary Energy” graph. It is one of the most sensitive energy supplies to any increase in cost because unlike oil, coal can often be replaced by natural gas (for heating or electricity) or renewables (for electricity).

  • “Squeezing the Balloon.” When coal is taxed, notice what happens to natural gas in response. Unless there are restrictions on gas, its demand will go up in response to expensive coal. We call this the “squeezing the balloon” problem—reducing fossil fuel emissions in one area causes them to pop up in another. Renewables are also boosted slightly, but the impact on emissions from increased renewables is small. Solutions to the "squeezing the balloon" problem include taxing oil and natural gas as well, or adding a carbon price, which addresses all fossil fuels together.

  • Price-Demand Feedback. Taxing coal also slightly reduces energy demand (see graphs “Total Primary Energy” and “Cost of Energy”). When energy prices are higher, people tend to use energy more efficiently and conserve energy. However, tax policies must be implemented with considerations for poor and working-class communities who can be negatively impacted by high energy prices. Learn more.

Potential Co-Benefits of Discouraging Coal🔗

  • Reduced air pollutants from coal burning improves air quality and health outcomes for surrounding communities. View this in the “Air Pollution from Energy” graph.
  • Less coal mining reduces heavy metal drainage and waste from mine sites, which improves water quality for people and wildlife.

Equity Considerations🔗

  • Taxing coal can raise energy costs for households and businesses that rely on coal for energy needs.
  • Low-income communities often suffer the worst health outcomes yet make up the majority of individuals who produce coal. Providing pathways for these people to find new jobs will be essential.


Coal, Oil, and Natural Gas

Slider Settings🔗

The Coal slider is divided into 5 input levels: very highly taxed, highly taxed, taxed, status quo, and subsidized. Each of the energy supply sliders (Coal, Oil, Natural Gas, Bioenergy, Nuclear, and Renewables) is set to reflect a similar percentage cost increase or decrease for each input level. The following table displays the numerical ranges for each input level of the Coal slider.

very highly taxed highly taxed taxed status quo subsidized
Change in price per ton of coal equivalent (tce) +$100 to +$30 +$30 to +$15 +$15 to +$5 +$5 to -$5 -$5 to -$15
Cost increase or decrease +200% to +60% +60% to +30% +30% to +10% +10% to -10% -10% to -30%

The coal industry is currently heavily subsidized. These subsidies are included in the “status quo” setting for the price of coal in En-ROADS. If you want to simulate the removal of these subsidies, move the slider to “taxed.” For more information, see this FAQ: How do I simulate reducing coal, oil, and natural gas subsidies?

Model Structure🔗

The cost of coal affects three significant decisions regarding energy infrastructure:

  1. Investment in new capacity (whether or not to build new processing and power plants)
  2. Use of capacity (whether to run existing plants)
  3. Retirement of capacity (whether to keep plants longer or shorter than the average of ~30 years)

Case Studies🔗

United States: Replacing all coal-powered electricity in the US with solar power could save 52,000 lives per year, which is more than the number of people employed by the coal industry today.2

United States: The total cost of reliance on coal to the US economy is estimated to be $344 billion per year. Of that cost, $187B is from air pollution, $74.6B is from public health effects in Appalachia, and $61.7B from climate damages.3

India: A one gigawatt increase in coal-fired capacity corresponds to a nearly 15% increase in infant mortality in areas close to coal power plants. The effect was largest for older plants, plants in areas with relatively higher pollution levels, and plants burning domestic rather than imported coal.4


Please visit support.climateinteractive.org for additional inquiries and support.


[1]: Markandya, A. & Wilkinson, P. (2007). Electricity generation and health. The Lancet, 370(9591), 979-990. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61253-7

[2]: Prehoda, E. W., & Pearce, J. M. (2017). Potential lives saved by replacing coal with solar photovoltaic electricity production in the U.S. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 80, 710–715.

[3]: Epstein, P. R., Buonocore, J. J., Eckerle, K., Hendryx, M., Iii, B. M. S., Heinberg, R., … Glustrom, L. (2011). Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1219(1), 73–98.

[4]: Barrows, G., Garg, T., & Jha, A. (2019). The Health Costs of Coal-Fired Power Plants in India. SSRN.

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