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Peak Coal in 2011?

user profile picture Chris Martenson Aug 09, 2010
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It’s a very hot day here in central Massachusetts, which I know because I operate without air conditioning, although my fan is non-negotiable.  My recent experiences with power outages has re-taught me that out of all the energy sources, electricity is just as important to my daily living as is petroleum.  Maybe more so.  By way of irony, my power just went out as I was writing this Insider Report.  It came back on only 45 minutes later, but the point was reinforced; electricity is a non-negotiable element of my modern household.  While I can cut back on driving to preserve gasoline, I cannot figure out how to get my well pump or refrigerator to run on zero electrons.  It seems to be either ‘on’ or ‘off.’

The most important substance to electricity production is coal, bar none.  While we know that China has 49 nuclear plants either under construction or to be started within three years, it is slightly less well-advertised that China is building the equivalent of two 500 MW coal-fired plants each week.

That’s how we got to last week’s somewhat startling pronouncement from the IEA that China had surpassed the US as the number-one energy-consuming nation on the planet.  China is ramping up its electricity production and consumption at double-digit rates.  Which brings us to coal.

I have on my desk a report by Patzek and Croft (Energy, v 35, pg 3109-3122) that has estimated future global coal production in terms of net energy, not tonnes like most other analyses.  The reason this is important was laid out in the Crash Course chapter on energy, where I showed that while US coal production was up since 1990 (by ~2% per annum), the net energy from the lesser grades of coal was dead flat.

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