Air quality standards and carbon prices are set to result in almost every coal plant in the EU losing money by 2030, with more than half already loss-making.
That is according to a report released today by Carbon Tracker, which warns investors that, despite the potential losses, energy companies only plan to cut their coal capacity 27% by that time.
However, it shows that a complete phase-out of coal by 2030 could stem utility losses by 22bn (£19bn), with almost all of Europe's 15 largest operators saving money.
In addition, it reveals that building onshore wind and solar PV projects will be cheaper than operating existing coal plants in Europe by 2024 and 2027 respectively.
"Air pollution policy, rising carbon prices, and the changing economics of renewables, have put EU coal power in a death spiral," Carbon Tracker analyst, Matt Gray, said.
The research shows that Germany has the highest number of unprofitable coal plants, but that early closure could save them 12bn, while Poland could make savings of 2.7bn.
Italy's Enel and Romania's CE Oltenia would be the only two of Europe's 15 biggest utility companies that would not cut their losses with a coal phase-out by 2030.
Germany's RWE and Uniper would making savings of 5.3bn and 1.7bn respectively.
Despite this, the report highlights how utility companies may keep coal plants running in the hope that governments will either continue to subsidise them for the guarantee of power supply, or pay them to close.
It also states that the expectation that competitors will retire plants and push power prices up, could also tempt utilities to keep their capacity running, as could the potential clean-up costs associated with scrapping coal.
However, stricter EU air quality standards that require 70% of capacity to install expensive new technologies by 2021 are expected to focus the minds of utility companies.
In addition, the European Commission has proposed banning coal from receiving capital market payments by 2025, which would likely undermine the chances of plants gaining new support from member states.
"Utilities can't do much to stop this other than drop coal or lobby governments and hope they will bail them out," Gray added.
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