For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.

Richard Feynman

Consultant Dan

16 May 2011

Peak Coal is coming

A post on Energy Bulletin warns that the economically viable deposits of coal are running out and that we are thus passing through a production peak, similar to Peak Oil.

Energy Bulletin is published by Post Carbon Institute which is one of my favorite think-do-tanks.

The Peak Coal post is based on recent research findings.

Three years ago I wrote on the topic for Crikey:

Peak Oil Schmoil. Why is no-one talking about Peak Coal?

With Peak Oil on the agenda of the G8, it is easy to miss the other story about the end of fossil fuels: Peak Coal. According to an under-reported German study from last year, global coal production can only grow by about 30% before it peaks and begins to run out, some time around 2025.

The G8 debate about oil will get the headlines because industry propaganda has kept peak coal out of the media. There were 179 mentions of coal from 6-7 July 2008 in Australia’s metropolitan papers with 28 mentions of clean coal (or geosequestration or CCS) and none of “peak coal”. (Compare that to the Oil Drum which mentions peak coal 362 times on their site). Understandably, we all think that coal can provide energy security into the future, so all we need is to get geosequestration working.

Shell for example, paints a scenario in its G8 PR where fossil fuels actually take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and provide clean hydrogen fuel for transport.

Like Talking Heads say, “Its hard to imagine that nothing at all could be so exciting, and so much fun… heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.”

The situation down on earth is that people are getting sick of this propaganda. The Energy Watch Group was founded to counter disinformation, by providing policy makers with objective facts. It is the initiative of the German Greens and SPD parties and also has political patrons from the UK Liberal Democrats and the Swiss Parliament.

EWG’s report on peak coal explains that the coal is going to peak at about 2025, not long after oil peaks. The EWG report uses figures from the BP statistical review of World Energy Council assessments (nb. the coal industry hides the true picture, so publicly available information is rubbery.)

The reasons for the dramatic coal peak and decline are simple.

Firstly, the world is using coal as if it is a reliable resource. The US has already reached its domestic coal peak and will continue to decline in production, no matter who sits in the Oval Office.

The second reason is that the coal industry has s-xed-up their published reserve estimates. Between 1980 and 2005, global coal reserve estimates have been cut by 50%. Germany recently downgraded its hard coal estimate by 99% and Poland cut its by 50%. The only players who have increased hard coal reserve estimates in recent years are India and Australia.

If you think the story stops with Peak Oil, Coal and climate change, look again. The same peak crisis will hit all sorts of minerals and ecological constraints in coming years, because the underlying dynamics are the same. We would be prepared, if it wasn’t for the Peak Sceptics of the 1970s who prefigured the Climate Sceptics of the 1990s, but that’s another story.

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