Skip to main content

Global coal production revisited - again

On Friday, 06 May, 2011, Professor David Summers posted on an oddly emotional article,  A Look at the Serious Energy Shortages in India and Pakistan.

Dr. Summers correctly points out that severe shortages of coal supply in India and Pakistan will not be quenched by imports from Australia, because China will outcompete anyone for the same coal imports.

From our analysis it follows that China's coal production will be difficult or impossible to maintain at the current high level. And China's coal demand is skyrocketing despite attempts to reign in coal burning by their most inefficient industrial enterprises.

Dr. Summers then goes on to say that the folks like Tad Patzek and Dave Rutledge have it wrong anyway, when they talk about the global peak of coal production and inability to satisfy demand that follows.  

Well, here we are: Too much demand worldwide, and not enough supply. The coal price goes up, way up, and still not enough supply.  How does one call this phenomenon?  Inattention, according to Dr. Summers.  The global peak of coal production, according to Patzek and Croft.

The multi-Hubbert cycle analysis is the best available estimator of future performance of the past and current coal mines around the globe, and their minor extensions.  The verdict is in: The year 2011 is the year of global peak of coal production.

The new coal mines haven't materialized for a variety of reasons, environmental, technical, logistic and economical. In the meantime, many of the current mines continue to decline.  Such is the ice-cold logic of summation of uncorrelated random variables.

P.S. On 5/25/2011, the New York Times reported on electricity production cutbacks in China.  Dr. Croft commented as follows:
Steam coal from Newcastle, Australia, was US$120.66 per metric ton ($109.46 per short ton) last week. South African prices are just as high in spite of longer haul distance to Asia. Compare that to $78.85 per short ton for Central Appalachian coal and you can see the beginnings of an Asian coal crisis. If you search 'China electricity shortage' on Google news, you see a lot of evidence that we were right about 2011. Shaanxi, Shanxi and Hubei are among the provinces with electricity shortages and they are three of the most important coal-producing provinces. I predict that China will suck up world coal exports, India will be caught short in a big way and the coal resources of Indonesia will be plundered as rapidly as possible with scant regard for the environment or local populations. As they say in the UK tabloid press, remember where you saw it first!
P.S.P.S. 6/2/2011.  I am back in Poland for a short visit.  The first news I see in a newspaper is this:  A Polish coal concern has been valued at 24 billion PLN ($9 billion) at the initial stock offering.  This concern is the largest exporter of coking coal in the world.  The price of coking coal went up 40% this year, to the current $320 per metric ton.


  1. Data from the EIA regarding world coal consumption in QBtu indicate that the peak was actually in 2009 at 133.21 QBtu. This was at the end of a three year plateau in which consumption varied little. Consumption dropped to 130.26 QBtu in 2010 after the 2009 peak.

    In 1991 and 1998 world coal consumption declines were followed by increases, so it is possible that new consumption records can be set, but unless Australian production recovers rapidly, it is hard to see 2011 consumption exceeding that of 2009. For the sake of our planet, we can only hope that consumption continues to decline at an ever more rapid rate.

  2. Love your blog!

    Any comment on the latest stats from BP? Coal use up by 7.6%. Although prices are high, production rolls on.

    Keep up the great work!

  3. While for some an ideal world would see no reliance on thermal coal (steam coal) to produce electricity, coal statistics would suggest the commodity isn't going anywhere. Coal reports show if we have to live with it, we may as well reduce the impact of coal and CCS seems to be the best solution found to date.
    Cherry of


Post a Comment

I would like to learn what you are thinking about my posts and encourage you to share

Popular posts from this blog

Green New Deal III - How to transit from fossil energy to renewables?

In Part I, I showed how most people have little understanding of the complex issues of global power transition from fossil fuels to renewables, and may jump to false and dangerous conclusions colored green by ignorance.  In Part II, I demonstrated that if humans continue to outdo rabbits in procreation, no energy transition strategy will ever succeed and the entire planet will become a miserable, Mordor-like dump with most nature extinct.

Here I will sketch the gargantuan scale of nonrenewable resources necessary to make the "Green New Deal" plausible.  Some of these resources are already depleted or miners cannot produce them fast enough to keep you happy.  Thus, you will not be pleased with what you read, but I am not alone. And by the depleted resources I mean not only the rich ores, easy oil and natural gas, but also the tropical and boreal forests, tundra, the Midwestern soil disappearing fast into the Gulf of Mexico in exchange for the "renewable" (not!) corn…

A brief story of the human future

Here at KAUST, we had three good rains in the last ten days. I just finished my 18 km bike ride and inhaled the vibrant shades of green of all leaves and the efervescent colors of flowers. The mangroves along the coast are growing vigorously, and today they were a bouquet of seledines reflected by the crystal clear water. It is peace where I live. Things could not be better.

Why then am I so worried? First this legal disclaimer: I am no Tralfamadorian.  I do not have the ability to experience reality in four dimensions; cannot access past, present, and future; and am unable to perceive any instant of time at will. Tralfamadorians are able to see the entire timeline of the universe, they know the exact time and place of the universe's annihilation caused by an unfortunate Tralfamadorian experiment, but are powerless to prevent the inevitable. Because they believe that when a living being dies, she continues to live in other times and places, their well-known response to death is, &…

All is well on our planet Earth, isn't it?

Please don't act with surprise when I say this: The global climate change is real; global warming is accelerating, especially in the northern hemisphere; and the positive feedbacks that will further exacerbate human condition are kicking in with vengeance.  I am stating the scientifically obvious, but I have not made it clear yet just how bad this climate change will be for us humans. For millennia, we have relied on the "free" environmental services that are going away.  These life-giving services are clean air to breathe, fertile soil, mild temperatures, healthy forests and savannas, healthy rivers, lakes, seas and oceans, sufficient rain, full aquifers, clean drinking water, and ample snowpacks.  When you are in China, in the Middle East, or in Central Valley in California, most or all of these services are either damaged or gone.

Let's fast forward to a recent article under this promising title: Climate report understates threat. This article was written by Dr.…