Richard Heinberg’s "Blackout - Coal, Climate and the Last Energy Crisis"

When Richard Heinberg's new book was about to be published, the editors at The Oil Drum were offered a review copy, and I was offered the chance to provide that review. Yet in a way providing that review gives me a bit of a puzzle, because the underlying premise on which the book is based is that, as David Rutledge has propounded, the world will run out of realistic coal reserves much faster than most folk anticipate. It is a point of view that I don’t completely accept, and I have posted on my disagreements with Dr. Rutledge over some of his assumptions and conclusions in the past. So I could fill this review with another regurgitation of my points of disagreement, but were I to do so I don’t think it would be a fair review.

(Sorry, word count wrong--the review can be found under the fold by clicking "there's more".) Word count fixed.

The book sets out to collect together in sequential order a compilation of those views that state that the world will run out of coal faster than expected (including one source that disagrees); then looks at the coal remaining in the major consumers the United States; China; Russia and India; and then looks at potential exporters Australia, South Africa, Europe, South America, Indonesia and Canada, as it rounds out the major global patterns of coal trade of the world.

The interplay with coal and climate is then reviewed and three different paths forward are then offered, with some closing remarks. It thus provides a relatively concise, yet comprehensive review of the coal supply future from one perspective. That is a very useful thing to have, and (perhaps I shouldn't admit this) had I not been given a copy for review I would have bought one. Would I have got my money's worth? Well it depends on what you are looking for. And to explain that remark let me discuss, very briefly what is in the Chapters and what I would argue about.

The fundamental questions come down to the difference between reserves and resources, and the rate at which reserves are used up. However because use changes as production declines and product cost rises, there needs to be some model of declining production. The references that the book cites rely on Hubbert Linearization, and this forms the basis then for the estimates. The text explains how it works and notes that it has often, historically, been applied to estimating how long oilfields will last. This model is then used to predict how long the current reserves of the different countries will last, based on current reserves.

The resulting numbers are quite dramatic. China is shown, for example, to see a peak in production around 2020. Given that China produces, and consumes, around 40% of world production - twice that of the United States - the impact on overall world use is likely to be significant. For while, for example, Russia is quoted as having the second largest reserves, the book estimates that "Russia could well cease being an exporter within only a few years." (Part of the problem rises because some of the eastern resources have yet to be tapped, and even when they are the coal has to be moved to the west where the demand is. Russian transportation services are considered currently inadequate to the task.)

In looking at India the author did give me my one mention, when looking at the potential increases in production that might be achieved by Coal India. But he points out (as I have) that India has a serious current fuels crisis and that increasing coal use is one way to solve it, at least transiently. I did think it a little odd that Pakistan, which also has serious supply problems, and is right next door, only got the courtesy of a passing reference "While the situation in India is not yet as bad as that in neighboring Pakistan, . ." The situation in India is not getting better - as an aside - and remembering that Bangalore is where a lot of India’s IT is located:

The situation is going to be grim across rural Karnataka. People in the rural areas will get electricity just for 10 hours, of which the three phase supply will be available for only five hours. It will be 14 hours of darkness in rural parts over the next 12 months. That is only if the authorities do not take recourse to unscheduled load-shedding as they have often has done in the past.

Energy Minister K S Eshwarappa on Thursday announced that Bangalore would have to bear with two hours of regulated load-shedding -- an hour in the morning (anytime between 6 am and 10 am) and another hour in the evening (anytime between 6 and 10 pm).

The situation for both India and Pakistan is that they are therefore going to be increasingly reliant on coal, and as the author points out, India is not yet set up to produce enough for its own needs, which as the above quote from this week shows, are becoming more critical.

And so these nations must turn to imports, and thus Chapter 5 deals with those countries that are most likely to provide that coal (Australia, South Africa, Europe, South America, Indonesia and Canada). Sadly it is this chapter that is the most disappointing, since the question as to whether the world will continue to have enough coal, is going to depend on the ability of the global production units to supply it. The book only recognizes South Africa (the country) as being capable of coal production in Southern Africa (the region) and being the only country there with significant reserves.

However when South Africa started defaulting on power to neighboring countries at the beginning of 2008, those countries had to look to what they can do with their own resources, and in Botswana, and Zimbabwe, among others, this will mean coal. Chinese engineers have already been engaged to increase production, and there is talk of the country matching or exceeding its diamond income with the income from coal, based on a 200 billion ton reserve. (In the book South Africa is quoted as having 48 billion tons of reserves. The Botswana reserve was only a resource until S. Africa cut off supplies). Admittedly there are currently some problems getting that program going, since initial plans for electricity production exceed local needs for power.

Europe gets similar short shrift, with UK reserves and production being written off in just less than a page. And so we come to the chapter on climate impacts, that begins:

Recent reports on global coal reserves, surveyed in the previous chapter, generally point to the likelihood of supply limits appearing relatively soon - within the next two decades (a contrary view is represented solely by the BGR report). According to this near-consensus, coal output in China, the world's foremost producer, could begin to decline within just a few years.

I am tempted to quote the shortest sentence in the Bible. Of course, if you pick your sources, you can get a consensus on anything. For the record I objected to David Rutledge's point of view, not only at ASPO, but later in The Oil Drum. (I wrote both about the National Academy report on coal, and the known coal reserves in the UK (determined by measurement and observation) not theoretically, and as defined in Trueman’s Coalfields of Great Britain. I listed the tonnages available from that text (though putting Scotland inexplicably in England for the table). That coal has not gone away, and some of it was being mined up to the time that North Sea Oil and Gas came ashore and turned it all (and this is key) temporarily from a reserve into only a resource.

This is not the place to get into more debate on the causes and status of climate change - or of the arguments that Richard Heinberg makes - if you believe they will reinforce that belief, if you don’t you can nit-pick over those he got wrong. But that isn't the purpose of the chapter, rather it is to look at how the impact of an early peak in coal production will affect carbon dioxide levels. Recognizing that there is going to be a peak in the production (and use) of all three of the major fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal) that may be very imminent means, as the author points out, that most of the IPCC models overstate the levels of carbon dioxide that we face in the next century. And thus, initially, the news is good in that the limits of concern will not be reached.

However the author questions the consequences of further warming, being concerned over, for example, the thawing of the permafrost and the release of methane as an additional forcing to the climate, and foreseeing additional problems beyond those currently anticipated. Thus he concludes that the peaking of the fuels won’t solve the problem. On the other hand he notes that climate change concerns are reducing the number of coal-fired power plants being considered in Europe and the United States. Thus perhaps climate change will influence Peak Coal?

One way of solving both problems relies on the introduction of new technology. So in the penultimate chapter there are short reviews of IGCC; CTL; UCG; and CCS though without any projection of hope that they will do much good in resolving the problem of carbon dioxide emissions. And so, in the final chapter three scenarios for the future - one which sees no coordinated plan for the future sees the global economy in ruins by 2040; one that sees a massive investment in CCS and IGCC but yet again, despite that effort the world energy demands are not met and global ruin again arrives; and then there is a third scenario where, through strong central government action (and a declining world population) the world is saved. (I will let you buy the book to see how that happens).

Yes, I am going to keep the book around, not on my desk, but somewhere so that, in five years or so I can pull it back out and see how the world did move on. I have a number of books from the 70's (including a couple by Daniel Yergin) that predicted the then future 20-years of growth, and how without following certain paths we would be doomed. They proved to be quite wrong, each in their own separate way, as this might prove to be. Natural gas, for example, at the moment may play a stronger role in the future than is currently projected.

But that is the fun of future projection - this book gives you some insight into the debate about the future of coal - I disagree with many of the assumptions and projections, but it does define the arguments of a given viewpoint that is receiving increasing levels of attention. So, yeah, I’m glad I read it.

As I understand the issue, one problem with coal reserves is that they only relate to coal that is in open mines, which are producible at current costs. Other coal may be known about, but if it isn't pretty close to development, it isn't included as a reserve--it might be included as a resource, if it has been evaluated sufficiently. If the price goes up a little, suddenly the amount of reserves increases by a large amount, since coal is generally very cheap relative to other fossil fuels.

The other problem with Heinberg's analysis is that coal usage has been flat or declining in many places, because we have had access to natural gas and oil. For example, very few new coal fired power plants have been built in the US in the last 20 years. If one fits Hubbert Curves to the data, one gets the impression that there is a supply constraint. But the real issue is a demand constraint. Without more electric power plants (or other uses for coal), there is no point in mining more coal.

I think your contention is that if oil and gas become less available, coal usage could easily be ramped up by considerably more than what Richard Heinberg thinks is possible. Also, the peak and decline could come considerably later.

The recent USGS reports talk about constraints at a particular price in a particular part of the country. It is not at all clear that they talk about a general problem with long-term supply.

There are two restrictions on what can be called a reserve - one geologic/geographic and one economic. The SEC regulations changed on oil and gas at the beginning of the year, so that you do not have to physically prove that the oil is there any longer, but can rely on geophysics. I am not sure whether the rules for coal changed. But it used to be that you could only count coal so far out from an existing known deposit as being there - I think it was quarter of a mile, but don't have my references with me. So you had to have either a mine or a physical core with the coal in it. This is the advantage of the Trueman book in that it was all based on physical evidence. So that is the geological/geographical part.

The economics are the current driver, as soon as North Sea Oil and Gas came ashore it was much cheaper than deep mined coal. Many of the mines were originally kept open as part of the social compact to keep jobs in the otherwise distressed parts of the UK (for e.g.) but when the miners became militant Margaret Thatcher could shut them down without (at that time) any risk to the Energy Security of the country. It is not, at present cost effective to mine the deep coal since it is cheaper to import than mine the UK's own.

However one should not forget the lesson of Botswana where, until the start of last year it was cheaper to import electricity than to mine their own coal. Then they no longer could, and it will take them years to get their own house in order and produce the energy they need. (Only something like 16% of the country is yet electrified). The coal is there in many parts of the world - there are more energy efficient ways to mine it (more tech talks in the future) but out in Wyoming they are just picking it up off the ground with very large shovels and hauling it away in trucks from seams that can be more than a hundred feet thick. The energy cost is very low.

One of the lines in the Wicks Report in the UK last week that caught my eye was that he claimed that they could turn on the coal industry in a 2 - 5 year period, if problems arose and it was needed. Since at the moment it is not then the coal is a resource not a reserve.

If my memory serves me correctly, the position with many of the UK deep mine coal seams was that they could only ever be economic because of the infrastructure already in place - the sunk costs already spent. Once the seams were abandoned, the drainage pumps turned off and the mines allowed to flood, then the seams would become impossible to reopen because the flooding would damage the existing tunnels and make them unsafe to use, and many of the seams were deep under the North Sea and alternative access by new shafts was impossible.

This would be the coal equivalent of oil wells irrevocably damaged by over pumping.

Obviously this is only a local issue. On a global level I think peak coal can not be usefully modelled using Hubbert methods - because the underlying assumptions about industrial society will no longer hold true as we approach the fundament limits to growth. Peak oil is probably not peak energy flow, but peak coal probably is, and after that all bets are off.

As I recall, pumping water out of coal mines was the first important industrial use of oil. What is the likelihood that this will also be its last use?

Actually it was Newcomen's initial steam driven pump that is generally credited with kicking off the Industrial Revolution because it allowed the pumping out of mines that went deeper than 200 ft. I had thought the first mine that used it was a tin mine in Cornwall, but a quick check shows that it was instead a coal mine. The heat for the boiler at that time was surely coal. Not sure about the application for oil, but I would suspect that it had many other industrial uses before being burned for fuel in a coal mine. The phrase "taking coals to Newcastle", comes to mind (of course they now do).

I see this in the UK Wicks' Report of last week.

With major investment in both deep mines and planning permission to exploit further surface mines, UK coal production could be retained at current levels of around 20 million tonnes per year through to at least 2025.

UK presently imports a further ~50Mt per year mainly for electrical power production. Coal accounts for 35 - 38% of UK electricity, with almost no CHP / District Heating. Accounts differ, but somewhere between 20 - 40 percent more coal would be needed for CCS (Carbon capture). CCS is believed by Wicks to be necessary. Significant (one-third) existing UK coal-fired power plant is supposed to go off-line by 2016.
The above production and import numbers contrast with Peak production of UK coal in 1913 at just under 300Mt per year (before modern machinery that could exploit near-surface open-cast mining). Even desperate efforts WWII and post-WWII, failed to raise production near to Peak. We could not advance a modern economy on coal much after 1956, and nuclear appears not to have been economically successful in UK c.f. later 1970s to-date France, and we were not able to efficiently use imported coal in the manner of Denmark (CHP/DH) over the same period. Sure, cheap oil in 1960s and North Sea gas 1980s, 1990s, gave UK temporary substitutes.
Wicks hopes for underground coal gasification in UK could be wishful thinking.

...very few new coal fired power plants have been built in the US in the last 20 years.

Not sure how you quantify very few. Here's a list of Sierra Club's "Stopping the Coal Rush" list and it's quite long. I'm no expert here but 59 active projects of various kinds isn't "a few." Many on this list are on line or are soon to be. It is a good example of the persitant push and pull between environmental and business interests in action. BAU marches on.

From a web user's POV this is pretty cool. Sortable on the columns, MW size, type. Topical interest on various types of plants.

EDIT: Here's a link to DOE technical papers on various designs for coal plants.

In the recent past, very little coal-fired electric generating capacity has been added. This is a graph I made for another post.

The graph doesn't go back very far, but even before the time period shown, not much coal capacity was being added. In the late 1990's, there was a belief that gas fired electricity would be very cheap. Not only were the plants very cheap and quick to build, but the fuel for the plants was very cheap. But in practice, it turned out that gas wasn't all that cheap (although it is again now). So utilities again began planning for new coal-fired plants, which is what you are referring to. But few coal plants have actually been built--so it is not in the demand figures.

Thanks for the chart, Gail. The plants on the Sierra Club's list are mostly < 1GW and I expect that it would take 20 added GW or so to visibly move your 300+ GW line. But they are being built. Fewer, thankfully, than if SC and others were not vigilant but that's another issue.


Another reason is that states are planning to replace coal with wind power, see this very detailed report
or this report of replacing coal with biomass
The big drop in coal use will be when the 40-50 year plants start to be used only as back-up power essentially mothballed for use in emergencies( grid failures, droughts, low wind, NG shortages ).
It will be one reason we don't have blackouts on a regular basis; the massive 350 GW coal capacity will still be there, even if we hardly ever use it.

According to a regularly updated DOE survey only about 12% of the planned coal capacity is really being built.
And: The new capacity in the US is almost negligible compared to the new Huge Black Smoke Cloud rising in China.

There seems to be a disconnect between what we can get our hands on to burn in one manner or another and what the environment will sustain. By many accounts the maximum ppm of CO2 we can spew into the atmosphere is 450. As of May 09 we hit 390, so we are only 60 away from catastrophic runaway global warming if we are to accept the 450 ppm max. figure. CO2 is now increasing by 2 ppm per year, which gives us at most 30 years before all hell breaks loose. But 2 ppm could easily turn to 3 as acidification of the oceans continues unabated. If so, then we only have 20 years, which is 2030.

My point being that even if there is many decades of coal reserves available, we are foolish to be burning them. We need to get off coal, oil and NG. How we do it is a difficult question I realize, but that is the imperative.

I very carefully did not comment on Richard Heinberg's views on Climate Change in the review, but the reality is that the concerns over the regulation of carbon dioxide generation are at present leading power generators to back away from new coal plants in the United States. Over 100 have been delayed or cancelled at this point.

As global warming stopped going up after the 1970 - 2000 interval at the same rate that it went up from 1910 to 1940, even though there wasn't the carbon dioxide in the earlier period, and the carbon dioxide levels have continued increasing since 2000, it is becoming increasingly detached from reality to say that the IPCC models are describing what is happening. Thus the language of the debate is changing. We now talk about Climate Change instead of Global Warming. As the benign effects of the increased temperature since the end of the Little Ice Age continue to be evident (they are getting record crops in the Sahel) it is also I suspect unrealistic to anticipate that we will wake up one morning having transitioned overnight to the "hell" that is predicted.

There are lots of parts of the world that need power, and where coal is the present choice as it is the only indigenous fuel that they can afford. Attempts to change that have failed since the time of Edward 1.

Whilst I disagree fundamentally on your interpretation of climate change, I am quite sure that when other forms of fossil energy (oil, gas) peak or fail to meet rising demand, there will be a massive return to, and as far as the economy will support it, expansion of coal production, regardless of CO2 emissions. The physical 'need' for energy will be allowed to trump any pollution arguments. I think coal production will be ramped up, higher than would be predicted by a smooth Hubbert curve, because society will pay whatever it can afford to get as much energy as it needs. However, as the quality of the energy provided by remaining fossil energy sources declines, the price that society can sustain will fall, and so will production.

I am an energy pessimist, but because of coal, a climate doomer.

The better numbers for acceptable levels of atmospheric CO2 are 300-350 ppm, and probably below 300 since levels have not risen above this since the beginning of human civilization till recently. See recent work by Jim Hansen and at

A slowing in the rate of warming for a few years is no refutation of AGW. Saying so is equivalent to saying "I just saw a bird fly, so the theory of gravity is disconnected from reality. A significant reduction in solar activity not seen for 100 years, a large increase in reflective aerosols from dirty coal plants (which China has famously been building at a rate of one per week for the last decade or so), and the temporary pause in the increase in atmospheric methane levels are more than enough to temporarily mask the underlying increased warming potential of the increased GHGs.

Please try to get info on this from something other than denialist sites. Nearly every published climatologist and established scientific body in the world has concluded that AGW is real and dangerous. Saying otherwise at this point is essentially like believing that oil and coal are abiotic, self generating, endless resources--nice for wishful thinking, but not well founded in science.

Tsk! Let's keep off the ad hominem shall we. The information on the rates of temperature rise 1910 to 1940, the drop after 1940, and the rise after 1970 come from the Hadley Climate Research Unit and the NOAA Climatic Data Center . My information n the Little Ice Age comes from Jean Grove's Little Ice Age which has several hundred scientifically validated measurements of the advance and retreat of glaciers around the world over the past few hundred years.

You might try broadening the scope of your own reading - it might make you better informed about the actual situation.

I was attacking your position, not you. So no ad hominem.

So you, all on your own, came up with the exact cherry picking of data that denialist websites use. Congratulations on that.

Care to address the main point rather than the perceived tone?

Tsk! Tsk! You obviously haven't been here that long. My conversion to more than doubt over Climate Change was brought about by the viciousness and personal level of the attacks that I received when I first broached the subject about 3 years ago. Since I was not anticipating such a series of attacks, over what had been I thought a scientific subject, I became curious about what was causing some much heat, and what clearly appeared to be an attempt to suppress debate.

Since then I have therefore read extensively on both sides of the debate and I used to write about some of the information that I found but which is not brought up when we the largely one-sided pronouncements of coming doom were being advanced. As a result I have come to some clear conclusions. They are my conclusions, but based on information and data that I have derived from many sources. There were warming periods in the past, and the evidence that I have read is that the temperatures during those periods was warmer than today. Thus I find, for example, that Richard Heinberg's concerns over the melting of the permafrost is an over-reaction to a perceived problem given that the permafrost melted during the last warming period (the Medieval one) without the serious consequences that he anticipates. There was a Little Ice Age and naturally the globe warms as we come out of it, that warming has been going on since the 1800's.

Again, congratulations for coming up with these standard denialist talking points all on your own.

And congratulations on being smarter on this issue than almost all of those who have devoted their lives to its study. I am truly awed in the face of such deep humility.

Thanks also for the admission that your position is an emotional reaction to getting your feelings hurt by someone's strong statements. This tells us a lot about why you may have been strongly predisposed to find confirmatory evidence to your preformed position and to dismiss anything that contradicted it. Given this emotional basis for your position, it is likely not going to be very valuable to continue the discussion much longer.

But if you do have good evidence that all the permafrost in the northern hemisphere melted some time in the last thousand years, we would all be very interested to hear about it.

You might want to look up what "ad hominem" means. Simplistically it can be paraphrased into when you don't have the strength of argument to attack the facts in question you attack the person making the arguments instead.

"Nuff said.

A good rule of thumb is not to try and tell alarmists it's not the end of the world. Then they won't get pissed off at you. lol

I have my own doubts and questions about global warming, and they align and overlap a bit with what Heading Out is talking about. Now, I'm no climatologist, but I must say that it is telling that dobhoi, who seems to give the impression that he has a good understanding of these things, immediately becomes incredibly defensive, resorts to ad hominem and ignore the issues.

Just saying.

(not to loud though, mustn't hurt the nuclear industry.)

That the warming is "fast" in a geologic timescale seems a little silly to someone who lives in a place where 300 years ago the sea froze and let the army cross over to lay siege to Copenhagen, and which 1000 years previous to that you could grow grapes in the same place, and even further north. The climate seems to change pretty much and pretty fast all by itself, because it certainly wasn't the pollution from the tanks of the Royal Swedish Army that made the Belt freeze in 1658.

The entire proposition becomes even sillier when I look out the window at rivers, hills and valleys which are at most a few thousand years old; before that they were seafloor (more or less at the same time as Babylon and Egypt happened down south), and a couple of thousand years before that they were under a 2000 metre thick iceshelf. That thing came and went all by itself too.

Just saying.

dobhoi, who seems to give the impression that he has a good understanding of these things, immediately becomes incredibly defensive, resorts to ad hominem and ignore the issues.

Dohboi never used any ad homs, but I shall. Why are we having the views of bloody denialists shoved down our throats here at TOD? We shouldn't be giving them the time of day, never mind allowing them to have key posts. 97.5%+ of climatologists agree that AGW is real, but we have to put up with jackasses with no climatological training announcing that they doubt it, and therefore coal is A-Ok? Fuck off, man. Time for this site to clean up its act.

So you're using your personal recanting-on-deathbed story to sway us into agreeing with you? Okay, but you'll forgive me if I side with the vast majority (read: all) of scientific institutes that actually matter who don't share your point of view. You know, like NOAA who disagree with your MWP being as warm as, or warmer, than today's temperatures and which is a source YOU yourself use to substantiate your own position.

You clearly overlooked ENSO effects, the lack of linear heating and that the rate of warming caused by humans is what makes the story here. No one disputes tropical Arctic seas in the past. But here's the thing: human society wasn't here then.

Dohboi called you out. Respond to his post. Hiding behind an ad hominem doesn't work when he actually addressed your point and has a perfectly valid point at that.

I suggest, before you get too emotional, that you actually go to either the Hadcru or the NOAA sites, download the graphs and compare the gradients 1910-1940 and 1970 - 2000.

Heading out,I have been accused myself of being a heretic even though I do state that I believe the world is warming up.

But if I had ONLY the word of the climate specialists who are on the research money and jobs bandwagon I would be a skeptic indeed.(there is other evidence which satisfies me.)

Sometimes folks just don't understand that JUST MAYBE things aren't so simple and straight forward as they seem.

Sometime back we lost a space probe because nobody spotted an error in converting units that even a freshman student should have caught.

Then after reading for many years that we are running out of thisnthat we never have and now I recently find out that the scientists who do the climate models took the word of the usgs,etc,regarding ff usage projections,and the projections were based on WHAT?

The projections of economists who evidently know nothing about geology.

The bcrats who projected oil coal and gas figures just said OK,I'll be glad to take care of this little problem for you,what the hell do we care.we're well paid and we will retire soon anyway,only an idiot would rock a boat THIS cozy!

now if researchers plentiful and well funded make such fundamental mistakes as failing to diuble check data,it indicates one of only a few things to me:

incompetence,or minds made up inadvance, or intellectual dishonesty-maybe they knew the consumption projectiions are suspect many years ago and just didn't say anything?;-(

Like you,I'm just saying.....;-)

NOAA's own site explains that the MWP was not warmer than today, and as for the temperature rates, that is because the warming relationship is non-linear.

If I can give you examples of the sort of things that made me draw the conclusions that I have, these include the migration of the Thule from Alaska to Greenland, the present of trees in the lake beds of California (about a thousand years ago - showing the extent of the droughts of the time), the collapse of the Mayan Empire - it is at that scale that one sees the impact of previous climate change during the Medieval and earlier Warming periods. There is the evidence of the shifting of plant species and ecotones back and forth across France over the Millennia that documents these changes. There is the sudden stop to the penetration of roots into graves as permafrost is re-established in 1350.

It is at a scale much larger than the contentious values that Dr Mann has put forward, based on the occasional bristle cone pine tree, but which NOAA seems to favor.

I know rehashed climate denialist arguments when I see them. It's too bad seeing them here on this quality site, but what can you do? There's a lot of misinformation out there, mostly coming from libertarian think tanks who in turn are sponsored by energy companies. It doesn't even matter if AGW is a reality or not, the thing causing Peak Oil is also the thing causing Climate Change (or Global Warming before Frank Luntz told Republicans the new subliminal linguistic trick), ocean acidification, top soil erosion, overfishing, financial bubbles, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, etc, etc...

It took millions and millions of years to get all those fossil fuels in the form of CO2 out of the air and into the ground, and people think it doesn't have any impact (or just a minor one) if you pump that CO2 back into the atmosphere in what, 200-250 years? The radiative properties of CO2 are known. The amount and increase of CO2 in the atmosphere is known. There is a (relatively very fast) trend upwards in global temperatures. The only logical question is: will it be bad or will it be very bad? Saying everything will just be hunky dory is like saying we will never, ever run out of oil, especially if we consume as much as we can of it.

I'm amazed how someone with the mental capacity of researching something like Peak Coal and write book reviews, somehow isn't capable of discerning climate science from ideologically-fueled, d/misinforming blog science. In fact, it saddens me. If Heading Out is wrong about his rehashed denialist arguments he will have influenced people in a bad way. Not that it matters much in the long run, but ethically speaking I wouldn't want to be in his shoes.

It also means I'll have to do extra research into Heading Out's arguments on the subject of Peak Coal.

It's worse than that. Heading Out and others ignoring basic precautionary principles means they are essentially logically and morally bankrupting us. So if we're wrong, we just look silly, but we stopped digging up coal and ensuring the world kept killing the planet's biodiversity off so quickly.

If the denialist camp are wrong, then we are all fucked six ways from Sunday. Clearly the best approach is to not er on the side of caution, as all good scientists and engineers do. I know that's how I work when developing pharmaceuticals, and I've not killed anyone so far (I think).

You already look silly. Hansen's proclamations of 20 years ago just haven't panned out. CO2 levels are going up that's for sure, but temperatures have started going down. So much for his theory.

What's even more absurd than the supposed CO2 sensitivity, is the idea that somehow the world can magically stop using fossil fuels. That would be the surest way of killing off most of the human species. But isn't killing off the human species REALLY what the eco-nazi's have in mind in order to save "Gaia"???

I support renewables as much as anyone. Hell I've probably got more installed PV than most of the "global warming" alarmists. But realistically, it's going to take 100 years to replace coal and other fossil fuels. It took 100+ years to develop the infrastructure we have now. That Al Gore and the other idiots even suggest that fossil fuels CAN be replaced in 10 years shows how little they know about engineering. About as much as they know about science.

Temperatures have started going down? Is that on the basis of one year, 2008? From this NASA data, it looks like 2005 was tops, closely followed by 2007, with a sharp drop in 2008 which still looks, nevertheless, like the ninth warmest on record.

I don't think anyone is proposing magic, in stopping fossil fuel use. The proposal is to start consuming less and continue consuming less until we consume virtually none. That wouldn't take magic but it would be tough.

A significant reduction in solar activity not seen for 100 years"

Try studying Hansen a little more and you'll find that he claims solar activity has nothing to do with global warming.

a large increase in reflective aerosols from dirty coal plants (which China has famously been building at a rate of one per week for the last decade or so), and the temporary pause in the increase in atmospheric methane levels are more than enough to temporarily mask the underlying increased warming potential of the increased GHGs.

So coal plants cause "global cooling"? Isn't that what NASA scientists were saying BEFORE they said coal plants cause global warming? Which is it?

A personal obseration form January 2003 when a large bushfire broke out around North East Victoria, plunging the area inot a fog of thick smoke for at least a week. Normally in January the average top daily temeperature around here would be 32 Deg C. During the week of smoke the ground temperature never got over 28 Deg C, even though the surrounding countryside not affected by the smoke was considerably higher. The smoke definitley had a cooling effect on the land under it as a lot less infra red made it through. I half suspect (and don't have the time to search it out) that Beiijing may have seen a slight rise in temperature over the Olympic period last year when it cleared the air. It would be interesting to find out if that was the case.

'Climate Change'
Was the result of a psychological study with focus groups, designed to gauge the emotional response to certain words. The moment 'climate change' was designed, global warming was nevermore heard from government mouths. Except nearly, that one time GWB stumbled and declared something about 'global...climate change'.

Heading out, I had to work so missed your earlier response. You quote the following in your earlier reply to my post:

"As global warming stopped going up after the 1970 - 2000 interval at the same rate that it went up from 1910 to 1940"

Where did you get that notion? CO2 was not even measured and kept in a database until beginning in 1958. Here is a link which shows all the measurements of CO2 in Mauna Loa from 58 to 2009.

If you look at those increases in CO2 per year, they increase from adding about 1 ppm per year from 58 to 80, then begin to increase to 1.5 then recently to about 2 ppm added per year since 2000. Look at May of each year to get the high mark then compare all years and you'll find the amount of CO2 per year is increasing to greater amounts over time.

This data repudiates your contention.

You may be willing to continue the experiment of adding CO2 to the atmosphere ad infinitum, but I am not and thankfully from the other responses from people here on TOD, they aren't either. Now whether technology changes can reduce CO2 emissions sufficiently to avoid tipping points, that remains to be seen.

If you will forgive the correction, I said temperature, you said Carbon dioxide levels, changing the topic doesn't invalidate my comment.

And if you will further read my comments in the rest of this post and responses, I rather suspect that it is not going to be what you want, or I want that is going to have any impact, but the quite natural desire of folks in places such as India to have a better life.

Like Borlaug and Haber, your intention are good, but your actions are suspect.
I commend your commitment, and we will (the survivors, if any) sort this out on the other side of the bottle neck humans are going into.
I take a existential view toward things, and do what is right, no matter what the outcome.
Camus is becoming more current by the day.

I'd be glad to to be convinced that rising CO2 levels won't cause the temperature rises that the IPCC predicts - if true, it would be good news.

Still, would you agree that rising CO2 levels are likely to cause great harm in other ways, principally by ocean acidification?

The evidence is overwhelming, and anyone ignoring these observable changes is so ideological committed, no evidence will convince them.
It is a moot point, the consequences is in, and greenhouse gases are warming the planet to dangerous levels.

I thought Co2 is already causing great harm of acidification of oceans, shells being dissolved etc.

That's my understanding as well, but I wanted to hear what Heading Out thought.

Cs: All the experts can predict accurately CO2 levels 30 years out (2039). Who accurately predicted 2009 CO2 levels in 1979?

All the experts can predict accurately CO2 levels 30 years out (2039).

Brian, learn the difference between a scenario and a prediction, and read your sources more carefully.

We're trying to find truth here, and you're not helping.

What sources are you referring to? It appears that no one in 1979 was accurately able to predict (or even come close to predicting) 2009 global CO2 levels. Unless this is a fallacy, it does tend to lend weight to the belief that forecasts of 2039 global CO2 levels are to be taken with a large grain of salt. IMO you are not trying to locate truth on this subject, just what is the conventional wisdom, which is seldom the truth.

What sources are you referring to? It appears that no one in 1979 was accurately able to predict...

What sources?

First, the sources you have checked in order to make the assertion beginning "it appears ..."

Second, the sources that you have checked that show forecasts made for 2039.

Again, climate models produce scenarios, not forecasts. Scientists invariably talk about scenarios in relation to models of the future. They're not stupid enough to say that they know what politicians will do (for example), so they don't make forecasts.

Scenarios, forecasts, semantics. And if the "scenarios" are proved wrong with actual measurements (as Hansen's have been), then the underlying theory is proved wrong.

Greg: My point is that the farther in the future your "Scenario" the more likely it will be inaccurate or sometimes even extremely flawed. This doesn't mean there shouldn't be planning, but one should be reality based when discussing these. A lot is going to happen in the next 25 years that almost no one is able to predict right now or in your words, no one has drawn up a Scenario around. IMO there wasn't anyone that in 1984 (25 years ago) predicted that by 2009 China would rival the USA in economic power. How is it possible that every single thinker could have missed such a huge development? It happens because the farther out your timeline the more unpredictability, or the more flawed your Scenario. Here is an exercise for you: you tell me what is the major development over the next 25 years (rivalling the China story) that not one important voice has mentioned. Almost everything you can mention is exempt-Peak Oil, Climate Change, Collapse of the USA, etc. Something BIG not being mentinoned right now by ANYONE is coming obviously. I realize what I am trying to explain to you isn't conventional thinking or something you were required to memorize to pass a course, but give it a thought.

I think many people are underestimating the effects of declining coal quality on energy output. This problem seems like it could be more pressing than declining oil production. When a utility buys thermal coal they don't buy tons, they buy BTU's. The lower the quality the more tons needed. This is why Appalachian coal trades as such a premium over powder river basin coal because it's higher BTU content and closer to population centers. Similar to peak oil where the best reserves with the highest energy content are used first(rational exploration), the best and highest energy content coal is used first. Northeast utilities are starting to test powder river basin coal to make sure they can burn it. This means further transportation for a lower quality coal. This is a downward spiral. I have yet to read anything that quantifies remaining coal reserves in terms of energy content not just tons.


You have identified ANOTHER (well known of course but still the first up here today) reason coal production may decline faster than predicted.

Of course I have no expertise in this sort of thing ,but my gut feeling is that EACH INDIVIDUAL forecaster seems to incorporate a couple of positive feedback loops in his work-the ones obvious from his professional pov of course-while ignoring others that may have as great an impact on production.

Maybe I could get my point across as an example of Murphy's law,working exponentially.

The more things go wrong,the more things there are TO GO WRONG,,rinse and repeat,and the more the total of the difficulties,the more the COST of extraction increases-probably also exponentially.

In other words once things start falling apart,the tendency is for them to fall apart at an increasing rate.


Isn't this why the doomers ,in a more roundabout way,are saying that it's too late to fix things?

Part of the reason for the switch to Powder River coal was that the coal further East was higher in sulfur. At the time the cost of putting in scrubbers to get rid of the product gases argued instead for the switch to the lower sulfur, but also lower quality Western coal.

Now that scrubbers are becoming mandatory anyway then some of the argument for continuing to mine and transport Western coal, rather than using local coal, are going away and some of the higher quality more Eastern coals are coming back into production.

There are sufficient extraneous political influences at work that it is difficult to draw conclusions about the quality and quantities of future supply that will be realistic over the long term.

I understand that coal-fired generation plants are designed for a particular type of coal, so switching from high grade coal to low grade coal may very well be a problem, as you say.

While coal is usually transported to a different location before it is burned, this doesn't have to be the case. I understand there are coal fired electric plants in Wyoming that use transmission lines to send power around the country. Something similar could be done in other places, such as Montana, if it were decided to mine coal there. So transmission lines can substitute for local power plants. It is not clear that this is the way to go from a CO2 point of view, but it is one way that a lower-quality resource, distant from markets, could be utilized.

Gail -

The biggest problem in switching from high-grade to low-grade coal is usually encountered at the back end of the whole power generation process, i.e., the air pollution control system. Retrofitting a SO2 scrubber onto an existing power plant to handle high-sulfur coal can be a VERY expensive proposition.

Also, if the lower grade coal has a lower heat content, and if the coal handling and feed system was designed for higher heat-content coal, then the maximum power output might be reduced somewhat. There could also be ash handling issues if the plant has to deal with a higher ash-content coal.

While it can be a real big headache to modify an existing power plant to accept lower grade coal, physically it can be done. But the technical/economic feasibility of doing so is highly dependent upon a whole host of plant-specific considerations. Hardly trivial, but not impossible either.

Regarding putting the power plant where the coal is and transporting the electricity rather than transporting coal long distances, this is sometimes referred to as a 'mine mouth' power plant, of which there are several very large ones in Kentucky and some other coal-producing states.

Coal is not priced solely by BTUs. The sulfur content directly affects price. Besides being very cheap to mine, the very low BTU content Wyoming coal is also low in sulfur. The problem with many eastern coals, and unfortunately cheaply processed petcoke, is the sulfur. Low sulfur coal ( <1%) is termed "compliance coal" and a premium is payed for it.

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I won't be surprised if coal peaks in 2020 for non-geological reasons--mainly climate change. Many studies show global coal use declining slightly under CO2 abatement scenarios for 2030
but that fossil fuels will still continue to produce a majority of grid electricity even then.

But this is the opposite of what Heinberg is saying which is coal use will fall under BAU.

83% of recoverable coal reserves(930 Gt EIA) are in just 6 countries--USA, China, India, Australia, Russia and South Africa.

It happens that 79% of world coal production occurs in those AND 78% of world coal consumption occurs in those same 6 countries.
All these countries consume +70% of what they mine except
Australia which consumes 1/3 of its production(swing producer).
It's practically a monopoly.

According to the Exportland theory, countries will stop exporting rather than reduce domestic consumption.

This will eventually result in blackouts for countries that lack coal reserves, but they only represent ~22% of current coal consumers anyway.

Today 40% of world electricity comes from coal(20% from hydro, 10% from nukes and the rest from oil and gas) though once oil becomes depleted in the next 40 years that is likely raise demand for coal greatly.

The export of natural gas, whether LNG or pipeline(Nabucco) seems far too energy intensive compared to shipping coal.

If taken as a whole the Big Coal group has 770 billion tons of recoverable coal and is consuming +5.2 billion tons per year.
Most experts think uranium is unlikely to last more than 75 years at current rates of production.

Coal will probably be the biggest single energy player for the rest of the 21st century.

Are humans smarter than yeast?
I think we will find out shortly----

I think the limits on coal may be different than we think.

One of the limits may be a limit imposed by the credit system. I have no doubt that Peabody coal (or other large coal producers) can borrow money, but it may become more and more difficult for users of coal to borrow to build power plants. Smaller coal companies, and subcontractors, may also have problems with the credit system.

Another limit may be the cost of upgrades. It may become just too expensive to add scrubbers to handle SO2 emission, and other costs of fuel switching.

Another limit may be demand for electricity, as consumers are increasingly laid off from work, as the credit bubble continues to deflate. It is hard to justify new electricity plants of any kind, when demand is down and peak capacity is more than adequate.

We don't think of the financial system as limiting, but it telegraphs the effects of oil shortages (and other shortages) through the system.

So, essentially, as I expected we see a "peak lite" whereby the economy collapsing or reconfiguring means a limit on output, and should a recovery occur, the needed infrastructure won't be in place to shoulder any real dramatic increase in short time. And then the physical limits are reached.

After all, who cares how much coal is left if our arbitrary, yet ever powerful, financial problems mean no access to this energy.

... it may become more and more difficult for users of coal to borrow to build power plants.

It is hard to justify new electricity plants of any kind, when demand is down and peak capacity is more than adequate.

We don't think of the financial system as limiting, but it telegraphs the effects of oil shortages (and other shortages) through the system.

Very good points. When oil exports are going down year on year, the 'economic laws' will change.

Don't forget peak oil. Here is just one number for the US:
From western coal-producing areas, coal transport costs averaged about 61 to 71 percent of delivered prices to destinations in the Midwest and South (Energy Information Administration, 2004).


The same issue accounts for overseas shipping from the (few) exporting countries.

So rule of thumb for many parts of the world will be:

peak oil = peak coal

That was 2004, when oil was cheap. Rail electrification is the obvious answer to expensive oil.

Well, the problem will be that as soon as world's governments become aware of PO all will want to electrify their railways at the same time. So you can expect a huge bottleneck at railway building capacities, exploding copper prices etc. So I doubt that remote locations like coal mines will be electrified any time soon.
Furthermore only a part of the mining and shipping process can be electrified.
And I still don't see any viable alternative to oil for overseas shipping.

exploding copper prices

I imagine they'd use aluminum, as is standard in long-distance transmission.

a part of the mining and shipping process can be electrified.

Could you explain that?

I still don't see any viable alternative to oil for overseas shipping.


The problem is that the U.S. is slavishly devoted to free trade - I suppose one could say though that we advocate free markets when it is to our benefit. As long as this continues to hold, exportland models won't apply - we will sell the coal to whomever is willing to pay the most for it. And the free trade agreements are actually treaties, so it isn't as easy to break them as just stating that we changed our minds..

Ultimately I suspect that we will want to renege on some of these treaties, but as soon as we try and restrict coal exports, other countries that would want the coal would try and impose retaliatory tariffs on other goods that we currently import.

As I understand it, the Kyoto treaty is all about use, not exports. So if a country like Australia exports a huge amount of coal, it is not penalized. It is the importing country, who likely cares not at all about Kyoto, that is penalized.

My suspicion is that a reduction in the use of coal in this country will lead to a big increase in coal exports. The importing countries would make more goods with the coal (perhaps China) or services (think of India), and sell them back to the US. Perhaps I am being cynical. Perhaps legislation can be passed that gets around these issues.

recent trends suggest you are probably right
Our government has the steepest discount rate of all..

Countries such as India and Pakistan and in Southern Africa are already seeing blackouts because they don't have enough energy supply (which is why I put the quote into the review). These countries have to have more power both to support their industries and to bring up the standards of living of the rural poor. As a result the Wick's Report from the UK last week, for example sees an almost doubling ( 4 billion to 7 billion) in coal use over the next 20 years, most of it in Asia and Africa.

Given the scale of the current global resource and that a fair bit of the coal is indigenous to the countries that are finding that they can't afford the international price of the alternatives, I suspect that in that regard the Wicks Report may be on the right track (I have other problems with it).

What seems to happen whenever people focus on the approach of one bottleneck in the future is depressingly predictable. They look at all the many ways to get around it, and pursue the most feasible. The sad part is that that has been the planning process by which the last couple hundred years of continually multiplying impacts on the earth has developed, impacts on everything else not considered a bottleneck yet as we've pursued endless growth toward a wall of multiplying bottlenecks.

The phenomenon that relieving constraints on one thing multiplies pressures on everything else comes from our operating within a relatively efficient stress equalization system, a world economy. Think of improving the efficiency of water use so you can expand housing development in the desert. It has the effect of multiplying all the stresses on a fragile environment without reducing water use... That's what relieving bottlenecks for growth inevitably does. Removing the constraint on one thing immediately communicates increased strains on many others, to the point that something becomes the growth system bottleneck again.

It also means that *AS GROWTH RUNS INTO SYSTEMIC LIMITS* relieving one bottleneck doesn't create "limitless new potentials" any more, as it once genuinely did appear to do. After going past the whole system point of diminishing returns for growth the effect is not to multiply opportunity, but to multiply opportunity cost. Then it dynamically shortens the time to when other bottlenecks will become prohibitive.

So, that kind of defines the natural limit to growth as a "big crunch" of converging crises as all the many parts of our previously well working systems are pushed to their limits, and no longer perform as we need them to. It's caused by relieving strains on one thing and having the effect of multiplying strains on all others...

That's the "normal consequence" of pushing complex adaptive learning systems to grow beyond their limits, and there seems to be a lot of accumulating evidence that this is actively happening. What's not happening is the emergence of a group of people able to create the new terms of discussion that people would need in order to come to understand the process, and invent a way out of it.

Nicely put. Another way of putting it is that modern global industrialism has proven to be a very effective Ponzi scheme that has managed to hide the inevitable enormous down side of depleting resources and habitats from enough people to keep it going for a number of decades.

We are now living in the era of consequences.

But many/most still want to keep the Ponzi going, because the consequences of seeing the truth are too painful to contemplate.

It is as if after Bernie Madof had been imprisoned, most of his investors kept investing in him and hoping for a big payoff.

What I think is the critical to see in that is not *that* modern industrialism has proven to be an effective Ponzi scheme, but *exactly why* people solving its problems keep making them much worse.

Yes, a big part of the problem is that profits from anything go into multiplying everything, with a financial system that refuses to put money into solving any important problem unless it gets to take multiplied amounts of money out. That's the direct mechanism driving the process. That's what creates the relentless growth imperative just for people to stay in business.

Why we see no problem with that is the bigger issue, I think. We accept it because we don't see the whole system it takes part in. So we don't see how we are now creating more problems than we solve at continually growing rates.

If anyone doesn't understand that, do please tell me what I'm not adequately explaining about it. If you're interested in what branch of science this is part of you might get more on it searching for "post normal science" "action learning" or "environmental partnerships" as well as "natural systems theory".

You last two have nailed the real problem. Everyone addresses individual bits of the puzzle, each one running at a compound rate. When you look at the whole, coal interfaces with oil interfaces with food production interfaces with population interfaces with ocean acidity...... and all running exponentially. In comparison, a retreating general working out which platoon to withdraw next, has it easy.
Coal, climate and 'cumulation are all reasons to limit population. Two of us present, and we've only got to worry about a fig-leaf and a snake, which at least suggests fuel and food.

Perhaps the notion of a 'swing producer' applies to coal as well as oil. Australia's east coast has hard thermal and coking coal and is close to customers in Asia. That means it should be able to radically change the global supply picture. If Australia cut coal exports (say 2% a year) it would be difficult for customers to find alternative long term suppliers of hard coal in the region. Could be why just this week India signed a $A25bn LNG contract with Australia.

Despite signing Kyoto the Australian government seems to have a blind spot with coal exports. The 600 Mt of CO2 produced by exported coal every year is about the same as domestic emissions from all sources. Both China and India have bought coal mines in Australia or are actively developing new deposits. That seems to support the idea of looming Chinese coal shortages. When adverse climate events take place (eg coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef) public opinion could turn against coal exports. The implication is that Asia should find alternatives to coal as quickly as possible.

the book only briefly talks about how to make coal cleaner. I wish someone would talk about that issue in depth. I live in a state that uses a lot of coal for energy and my problems with breathing and asthma have only increased since I moved here. I wish more people would talk about how the burning of coal affects people's health and how making coal cleaner to burn is almost prohibitive in its scope. making coal cleaner to burn is almost prohibitive in its scope.

You need to look at CCS a little more carefully.

It is expensive.

A conventional 500 MW pulverized coal(PC) running 6500 hours per year uses ~1,500,000 tons of bituminuous coal a year and puts
+3,000,000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. A 500 MW PC plant costs about $550 million dollars.

The cost of conventional coal is about 5 cents per kwh and there is on average 8 cent per kwh surcharge for residential users bringing the average bill to 13 cents per kwh.

The cost of a clean coal 500 MW PC plant with capture would be about $1100 million dollars.
It would also produce about 75% of the kwh for the same amount of coal. The efficiency of IGCC-CCS is higher but this analysis is for the most expensive PC-CCS technology from 2000.

Then you need a 16" dia. pipeline which costs about a million dollars per mile. And there is an incremental cost associated with storing CO2 underground.

CCS plants reduce CO2 emissions by 90%.

The cost per kwh for new PC-CCS would be about 9 cents per kwh, so your residential rate would be around 17 cents per kwh. That means clean coal would raise your residential electric bill by
30%. If you use 12000 Kwh per year, that would increase from $1560 to $2040. This is equivalent to a $40 per ton CO2 tax.

The cost of new LWR nuclear is about 7 cents per kwh so the residential rate would be around 15 cents per kwh.

I don't consider CCS which reduces CO2 emissions to be prohibitively expensive. In Europe people pay 20-30 cents per kwh for electricity.

There is NO alternative to burning coal for the forseeable future.

Every study I've seen indicates that for the next 50 years coal and other fossil fuels will provide a majority of US electricity.
Renewables will probably not exceed 20%.

If you don't like paying the additional cost, conserve as best you can!

If you are thinking about off-grid solar you should know it costs about 30 cents per kwh over its lifetime.

You've overlooked the problem of storage space. If I recall a cubic metre of bituminous coal generates about 3000 kg of CO2. The densest form of CO2 I believe is gaseous at standard temperature and pressure with a density of nearly 2000 kg per cubic metre. So that cubic metre of coal needs at least 1.5 cm of waste storage, 50% more than the original coal. With energy penalties more coal has to be dug for the same net electrical output, with figures ranging from 15% to 40% more.

So a major problem is lack of holes in the ground. Solid or liquid CO2 will need both more space and higher pressures. Brine dissolved CO2 will experience saturation but I don't recall the figures. Correct me if I'm wrong.

I think this means the best way to store CO2 is in the form of coal or charcoal. CCS is a delaying tactic to avoid taking the unpleasant political steps of shutting down coal fired power.

The best thing to do with CO2 is to recycle it back into hydrocarbon fuel. Several different technologies are being developed, for example:

I find it hard to believe that there can be any future in expending energy to get the output of some combustion process back to the input of that same combustion process. Surely, this is like some perpetual motion scam?

Supercritical CO2 at 1050 psi weighs about 95% as much as water and the government requires that it be buried in places with the correct geology more than 2000 feet below the surface.
1100/(0.95 x 62.4/144)= 2670 feet of hydrostatic pressure alone would be enough to keep CO2 confined not to mention more than a third of a mile of rock overlay.

A ton of supercritical CO2 takes up 34 cubic feet(~1 cubic meter). The US
produces 6 billion tons of CO2 per year of which 40% comes from power plants and 83% of that comes from coal or 2 billion tons annually.
Therefore all the CO2 would amount to 2 billion cubic meters or ~72 billion cubic feet.

So a major problem is lack of holes in the ground. Solid or liquid CO2 will need both more space and higher pressures. Brine dissolved CO2 will experience saturation but I don't recall the figures. Correct me if I'm wrong.

You may be surprised to learn that there is over 8000 billion cubic feet of natural gas capacity in the US. Of course CO2 would be stored even deeper in saline aquifers or old oil and gas wells.

You mention the energy penalty(I did too--15-25%). There are penalties for scrubbers to remove sulfur dioxide from oil, gas and coal also. It's irrelevant. We need clean air.

"You may be surprised to learn that there is over 8000 billion cubic feet of natural gas capacity in the US"
That's measured at atmospheric pressure, in the ground it occupies a lot smaller volume. An energy penalty of 15-25% seems optimistic, is there any data for this?

An energy penalty of 15-25% seems optimistic, is there any data for this?

Of course.

Neil as an electricity cornucopian you better pray that CCS does work as intended if only to power your legions of electric cars.

"So a major problem is lack of holes in the ground."

...and too many holes as well. You may know that more than a million oil and gas wells have been drilled in the US. And the (former) oil and gas reserve strata are also among the most promising to store CO2.
The problem is that many perforations may result in leakages for the future storage, and it may be hard to be sure that they are really thight (for centuries). One US state (now I don't remember which one) had demanded that any CCS project has to assure the integrity of all boreholes. As it would be much to expensive to check all boreholes this virtually means that CCS is banned in this state. Imagine if this happens all over the US...

A 500 MW PC plant costs about $550 million dollars... this analysis is for the most expensive PC-CCS technology from 2000.

The latest proposals seem to be coming in at several times that much - they're so expensive that they're in the same cost range as nuclear and wind power.

I don't think CCS coal is going to be anywhere close to competitive with wind power and nuclear. It will probably make sense to keep existing coal plants around as backup, but only use them at 10% utilization. That might be thought to create expensive overhead for that power, but in reality these plants represent a sunk cost. Of course, the owners will lost a great deal on their investment, so they'll fight it tooth and nail...

Wind/solar power(which I love) simply can't produce reliable, continuous power. All studies indicate that it will cover 20% of electrical demand.
As far as nuclear goes, there is only 75 years of uranium resources in the world with LWR technology at current consumption rates( nuclear provides just 10% of world electricity) so IF we could magically get 40% of our electricity from nuclear instead of coal we would exhaust the uranium supply in 20 years.

I don't love coal but the world has more than a century of coal reserves(930 billion tons) at current rates(7 billion tons per year) of consumption.

Face the facts.

GW is real and we have to reduce it by 80%.(Irresistable force)

Coal is going to be the primary fuel for electric power for the next century.(Immovable object)

Let's get on with dealing with this. No more nuke/renewable fantasies.

A number of studies by US utilities(MN-MISO, Auista-Utilities examining 30% wind capacity) indicate modest integration costs($4.40-$8.80/MWh).DOE "2008 Wind technologies market report". There is no reason why most coal fired power plants cannot be replaced by wind energy as they are retired or placed on care and maintenance.

Apart from the fact that CSP can store some peak power, why would you want to store solar electricity, it's produced when it's needed during day-time peak demand. Nuclear and wind can provide off-peak power.

"Coal is going to be the primary fuel for electric power for the next century"
I doubt very many new coal fired plants will be built in US, and not very many in China after 2020. When they are 40-50 years old they will be retired if not sooner.


The DOE report says: "Recent wind integration studies continue to show that wind integration costs rise with higher levels of wind penetration, but are below $10/MWh – and often below $5/MWh – for wind capacity penetrations of as much as 30% of the peak load of the system in which the wind power is delivered."

I understand that to mean the following: for a system with 100GW average load, and 150GW peak load (as a wild guess), wind capacity could rise to 45GW and still have low integration costs (well below one cent per KWH). The report indicated that capacity factors were around 35% for recent projects, so that gives us 15.75GW average, or 15.75% market penetration of KWH production.

Does that make sense?

I would note that, again, this study doesn't say we can't get well above 16%. It just says that with current grid engineering, we can achieve at least 16% without a problem.

I think that's what the DOE report means. Until we get close to 30% wind capacity studies wont' be done on say 50% or 60% capacity. It may prove to be considerably more expensive or solar may be a better renewable to provide the balance.
Here in Australia, one state South Australia is planning on 35% of total electrical power from wind which would be considerably higher than 35% capacity. They will be using NG peak and drawing on out of state hydro. They are close to 20% power( 50% capacity now).

They will be using NG peak and drawing on out of state hydro

That means that South Australia is a part of a larger system, which is assisting. I think the question here is what % we can get to for the overall system, which in this case would be all of Australia & New Zealand, I suppose.

How much hydro do they expect to use?

All studies indicate that it will cover 20% of electrical demand.

Hmm. I've looked at a lot of such studies, and none of them said that 20% was the maximum for renewables. I've seen some that showed that something in the range of 20% was possible just for wind, but weren't testing the hypothesis that more than that could be done. IOW, most of them said it was the minimum that could be done, based on current grid technology. They didn't test such things as expanded long-distance transmission, greatly expanded Demand Side Management, a large fleet of PHEV/EVs providing demand buffering and V2G; greatly expanded storage; etc.

Here's an example: "Short et al. , using the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’sWinDs model, concluded that wind could account for as much as 25% of U.S. electricity by 2050 (corresponding to an installed wind capacity of 300 GW). " See here.

Could you point me to a study that says wind & solar are limited in the long-term to 20% of grid KWHs?

there is only 75 years of uranium resources

Regardless of whether that's true, I understand Thorium is more abundant, and works just as well. What do you think?

Here's an example: "Short et al. , using the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’sWinDs model, concluded that wind could account for as much as 25% of U.S. electricity by 2050 (corresponding to an installed wind capacity of 300 GW). " See here.

Could you point me to a study that says wind & solar are limited in the long-term to 20% of grid KWHs?

Right back to the reference you gave. 300 GW(which AWEA agrees with) as 25% of 1200 GW(2050) up from 1075 (in 2008). Wind on average runs 2500 hours per year at name plate. Today we use 4100 Twh on 1075 hour/yr.

(300 x 2500)/ (4,100000 x 1200/1075) = 16.4% wind.

" just as well" except nobody is using it.

1) you're assuming a 28.5% capacity factor for wind, while the DOE reports that new farms in the last several years are achieving an average of 35%.

2) The study I'm referring to doesn't give the total generation in 2050, so we're guessing when we use 11.6% growth (1200/1075).

If we use 35% and 11.6% growth that gives 20.1%.

This modelling study appears to say that given current tech and some modest assumptions on price change, that 20% wind penetration is likely in 2050. It doesn't say that it's a maximum, and it doesn't take into account the effect of an aggressive policy push toward wind, and new conditions, such as 230M PHEV/EVs.

Does anyone have any comments on the following? It seems to suggest that Australia has a lot more coal than previously thought:

Of note and widely missed by the investing community is the 1 - 1.5 trillion tons of coal discovered over the last few months by CTP in the Perdika Basin. CTP has according to independant reports good prospects for their UCG program as their coal is at the right depth, grade and importantly has thick seams up to 40m in diameter. Another plus is that they almost straddle the Darwin to Adelaide railway and consequently will have little difficulty in transporting their diesel and other fuels eg Kerosine to either Australian or Asian markets. page 11,17 of PDF
"The findings are a solid outcome and whilst there has not yet been sufficient drilling to arrive at a JORC resource estimate, the report has defined a coal Exploration Target potential of between 0.6-1.3 trillion tonnes above 1,000 m with a total tonnage inclusive of deeper coal sections of between 1.5 to 2.1 trillion tonnes in CTP's combination of Mining and Petroleum Act permits and applications that covers most of the same ground," Central Petroleum's Managing Director, John Heugh, said.

"This is a significant conclusion, as the estimate is based on a realistic contribution of several factors, including a fresh interpretation of the geometry of the Basin, three dimensional data from seismic surveys, 2008 drillholes including cumulative coal intercepts of much greater than 100 m, and supporting geophysical downhole logging data. We were already aware from previous modelling that the Basin's coal footprint extends over more than 9,000 km2 of the Purni Formation alone in EP 93, just one of the company's Pedirka Basin tenements, so this is a further step along the confidence path to vindicate substantive coal focused drilling throughout the Basin."

I suspect that the durability of coal production is greatly overestimated, but my suspicion is for a different reason than above. I'd be interested to know what others think of my hypotheses below.

Gail says coal is relatively cheap to obtain, but I beg to suggest that that may soon cease to be the case.

Being a coal-miner has been a seriously unpleasant occupation at the best of times. Arguably this unpleasantness factor will be increasing as we are increasingly confined to much poorer lower ERoEI rocks in less agreeable locations (deep down etc). The costs of (a) chopping out, (b) hauling up, and (c) transporting to use-locations are all going to be increasingly bothersome as we get poorer. I suggest that the wherewithall to invest in such huge, increasingly-marginal enterprises is going to look increasingly shaky in the coming years, even if there is not a total system collapse as elsewhere suggested. (And if there is then coal-mining will be consigned forever to the same bin of history as space-travel.)

In regard to "Being a coal-miner has been a seriously unpleasant occupation at the best of times." Actually I once was one (as in the "here is thy pick and shovel and there is 15 yards of coal, when it's gone you can go home" type). I don't think that most of the folk I worked with back then thought that way, and as the mines have modernized and moved to significantly higher tech I don't think that those thoughts would prevail even now.