Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Is there a "peak coal" curve?

"We'll stop using coal before we run out of it," according to retired USGS coal expert Hal Gluskoter, in a review article by Richard Kerr in this week's issue of Science.

Hal was on an NRC committee that concluded in 2007 that the "long-standing estimate of about 267 billion short tons of recoverable reserves in the U.S." was not supportable. Instead of a 250-year supply, it's more likely that we have 100 years of coal left in the U.S. [right, credit USGS]

Kerr examines the claims that coal production follows a curve similar to that for oil, replicating Hubbert's 'peak oil' concept.

A Swedish group estimates world coal production peaking as soon as 2020, "entering a 30-year-long plateau and then declining."

Others are skeptical, just as there are skeptics that the world oil peak has been reached. They suggest alternate energy sources will become more economically competitive and widespread, replacing coal before we deplete our reserves.

It's interesting to read this article today, right after reading Tom Zoellner's piece (see my previous post) about the U.S. turning away from nuclear power. Nuclear accounts for about 20% of U.S. electricity; coal for over 50%. Finding replacements for 70% of our electricity generation is a daunting task, even with the public and government enthusiasm over alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, and geothermal. I don't see that this country has yet made the decisions and investments needed to achieve that switchover.

No comments:

Post a Comment