Coal mining in Germany, photo: Bert Kaufmann/Creative Commons
We've written about how the world's recoverable coal reserves may be much less than commonly believed (and touted by politicians and coal producers) for a while now; here's another take on it from Richard Heinberg and David Fridley of the Post Carbon Institute: Writing in Nature, they point out that the main coal-producing countries of the world are overestimating supplies and that coal prices could start rising far sooner than anyone thinks--with obvious serious implications for energy policy.In coming to this conclusion, the authors point out that there's something off with mainstream projections for coal supply. For the past couple of decades global supply has been dropping at a faster rate than consumption.
It seems advances in geology have caused a number of nations to revise downward the amount of economically recoverable coal reserves they have: South Africa and Germany have both reduced there estimates by over a third in the past five years. Furthermore, the US hasn't updated its national coal survey since the 1970s, meaning there well may be a nasty shock in store should a new estimate be done today.
The Post Carbon Institute recommends that countries should "immediately start planning for higher coal prices, and reconsider their investments in clean-coal technology...the economic shocks for rising prices would be felt by every sector of society."
When may we start seeing more rapidly rising coal prices? Heinberg and Fridley say it'll happen by the end of this decade.
chart: Post Carbon Institute
Hear Heinberg's overview of the article podcast, or read the original: Nature: The end of cheap coal
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More on Coal:
There's A Lot Less Coal Out There Than We Think - But That's Not Civilization's End
World Coal Reserves Could Be Much Smaller Than Previously Thought
Peak Coal Comes to Appalachia