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Clean Power coal reserves, coal supply, coal electricity, coal power, coal emissions

Published on April 24th, 2008 | by Sarah Lozanova

14

Peak Coal as Early as 2025

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April 24th, 2008 by  


coal reserves, coal supply, coal electricity, coal power, coal emissionsWith dwindling fossil fuel supplies, coal has been viewed as the energy source of last resort. This outlook is changing as estimated global coal supplies seem to have been severely inflated. Is coal’s future in doubt?

Many experts are saying yes. Professor David Rutledge of CalTech believes that world coal reserves are grossly overstated and could be substantially exhausted this century. This is in stark contrast to earlier forecasts.

Coal Reserves Inflated

In the last 20 years, official coal reserves have fallen by 170 billion tons. To put this number in perspective, global coal consumption in 2007 was 6 billion tons. Reserves figures are dropping far more quickly than actual extraction.

The European Commission’s Institute for Energy in 2000 estimated global supplies of coal to last 277 years. In 2007, that number was lowered to 155 years.

This forecast may sound like plenty of time to adjust to meeting our energy needs in from other sources, but how accurate are these numbers really? The National Academy of Sciences Report on Coal, from June 2007 isn’t very encouraging.

“Present estimates of coal reserves are based upon methods that have not been reviewed or revised since their inception in 1974, and much of the input data were compiled in the early 1970’s. Recent programs to assess reserves in limited areas using updated methods indicate that only a small fraction of previously estimated reserves are actually minable reserves.”

To make matters worse, some countries, such as Vietnam and China have not changed their official reserves figures for decades. This seems suspicious because billions of tons of coal have been mined during this period.

New Coal Discoveries Unlikely

While oil lurks below the surface and can be hard to detect, coal fields can be identified by outcrops. This means that the locations of coal reserves are known and new coal discoveries are unlikely.

Coal Reserves and Policy

A 2007 report issued by Energy Watch anticipates global coal reserves to peak as soon as 2025. Policy-makers have been using forecasts issued by the International Energy Agency, which relies on official reserves figures. It is certainly hard to create effective policy when reserve estimates vary so widely.

Good or Bad News?

When taking climate change and air quality into account, smaller coal reserves are probably good news. Supply constraints may cause the market to adjust without the need for climate change policy alone to decrease coal consumption.

Many people fear that declining supplies of oil could cause an increase in the use of coal as a last resort. Perhaps coal is not a good last resort.

Sarah Lozanova is a freelance writer that is passionate about the new green economy and is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Energy International Quarterly, ThinkGreen.com, Triple Pundit, Green Business Quarterly, Renewable Energy World, and Green Business Quarterly. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and is a co-founder of Trees Across the Miles, an urban reforestation initiative.

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About the Author

is passionate about the new green economy and renewable energy. Sarah's experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and is a co-founder of Trees Across the Miles, an urban reforestation initiative. When she can escape the internet vortex, she enjoys playing in the forest, paddling down rivers, or twisting into yoga poses.



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  • ben g

    ok so dose anyone know what coal is made out of come on people i need to know and there is nouthing that will tell me!!!!!!!!!!!

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  • Ardoreal

    Depends on your region. There’s no real for sure consensus because of all the untapped coal veins and how accurately you can predict useful ore can come out. This also is dependent on what method you use to extract it and what the quality of coal is.

    We may hit peak coal as early as 2015 or as late as 2090. When they do exploratory drilling and they hit a vein a bunch of geologic studies are done. Then they determine by the projected price of coal and what method is cheapest or most effective by the time the mine goes online and it has to be by a certain quality. Some places go underground and get about a mile into the face and then discover that it’s mostly crappy coal with mostly sulfur in it. If the sulfur content is too high a mine has a choice, build a washplant for the coal or abandon the whole idea altogether.

    The dirtier the coal the lower the BTU’s and consequently the more the plant has to burn to reach desired boiler temps for driving the turbine/generators. This means exponentially higher emissions. Or what if they run into clean coal and well, there you go.

    Now they will process the coal however they have to when the price for electricity is right. They could build a double washplant etc etc.

    Here’s what you watch out for: let’s say in 15 years the electric rates go sky high because coal starts getting into short supply. They will go after the dirtiest coal last. Even if a minesite processes the coal and washes it etc etc, everything you do to coal lowers the BTU/lb. The lower the BTU’s of coal, the more the plant burns to keep load optimal. So around when peak coal actually happens, we’re going to be dumping twice the emissions we are now into the atmosphere and that’s if we stay at our present load. Do the math and see how demand will rise, and the power of exponents will frighten you.

  • Ardoreal

    Depends on your region. There’s no real for sure consensus because of all the untapped coal veins and how accurately you can predict useful ore can come out. This also is dependent on what method you use to extract it and what the quality of coal is.

    We may hit peak coal as early as 2015 or as late as 2090. When they do exploratory drilling and they hit a vein a bunch of geologic studies are done. Then they determine by the projected price of coal and what method is cheapest or most effective by the time the mine goes online and it has to be by a certain quality. Some places go underground and get about a mile into the face and then discover that it’s mostly crappy coal with mostly sulfur in it. If the sulfur content is too high a mine has a choice, build a washplant for the coal or abandon the whole idea altogether.

    The dirtier the coal the lower the BTU’s and consequently the more the plant has to burn to reach desired boiler temps for driving the turbine/generators. This means exponentially higher emissions. Or what if they run into clean coal and well, there you go.

    Now they will process the coal however they have to when the price for electricity is right. They could build a double washplant etc etc.

    Here’s what you watch out for: let’s say in 15 years the electric rates go sky high because coal starts getting into short supply. They will go after the dirtiest coal last. Even if a minesite processes the coal and washes it etc etc, everything you do to coal lowers the BTU/lb. The lower the BTU’s of coal, the more the plant burns to keep load optimal. So around when peak coal actually happens, we’re going to be dumping twice the emissions we are now into the atmosphere and that’s if we stay at our present load. Do the math and see how demand will rise, and the power of exponents will frighten you.

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  • http://gas2.org Clayton

    This is really, really serious news. It’s funny how little we’ve heard about peak coal, considering how dependent we are on coal for electricity and the implications of economic depletion of this resource.

    It could be the best thing that’s ever happened, energy-wise because it could force us to alternatives, like solar thermal (linked above), and this one:

    http://gas2.org/2008/03/25/how-solar-panels-could-power-90-of-us-transportation/

  • http://gas2.org Clayton

    This is really, really serious news. It’s funny how little we’ve heard about peak coal, considering how dependent we are on coal for electricity and the implications of economic depletion of this resource.

    It could be the best thing that’s ever happened, energy-wise because it could force us to alternatives, like solar thermal (linked above), and this one:

    http://gas2.org/2008/03/25/how-solar-panels-could-power-90-of-us-transportation/

  • http://www.reffwallstreet.com Samantha Jacoby

    There is no need to use coal when the renewable energy investment opportunities are so strong. I suggest you attend the Renewable Energy Finance Forum-Wall Street (http://www.reffwallstreet.com), held in NYC, June 18-19, 2008. A executive-level focused event, the forum showcases 40+ of the biggest names in renewable energy financing from companies like BP, GE, MorganStanley, JPMorgan, First Solar, Abengoa, Acciona, etc.

  • http://www.reffwallstreet.com Samantha Jacoby

    There is no need to use coal when the renewable energy investment opportunities are so strong. I suggest you attend the Renewable Energy Finance Forum-Wall Street (http://www.reffwallstreet.com), held in NYC, June 18-19, 2008. A executive-level focused event, the forum showcases 40+ of the biggest names in renewable energy financing from companies like BP, GE, MorganStanley, JPMorgan, First Solar, Abengoa, Acciona, etc.

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