Earlier this month, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released its Coal Market report for the period 2012 to 2017. This analysis empirically documents coal as a major global energy resource whose utilization has been on a dramatic upswing for the last several decades and particularly in the past few years. In 2010, for example, the world used 7,080 million metric tons of coal. By 2011, we utilized 7,384 million metric tons -- a 4.3% increase in just one year. These substantial increases in coal consumption will not only continue but will expand significantly over the next several years.
Coal consumption has increased in the European Union and Eurasia. The United States obtains 44% of its electricity from coal. South Africa is bringing millions out of poverty with a coal-based economy. And, perhaps most importantly, dynamic nations in Asia are utilizing coal to both support economic growth and improve the environment. These nations are building advanced coal power plants to ensure affordable and reliable electricity for decades. Indeed, by 2015, 50% of the world's most efficient coal power plants will be in China or India. Highly efficient modern coal plants emit almost 40% less CO2 than most existing plants. Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) at such advanced plants is the pathway to near zero emissions as we fully unlock the global value of coal.
Coal is the mainstay of electricity, accounting for 41% of the world's power. Consider the scale of coal based electricity in terms of equivalence to other fuels:
- 68 Tcf of natural gas-- three times Russia's production
- 1,400 nuclear power plants--we have 436
- 104 Three Gorges Dams --we have one
Coal takes the lead
The growing role of coal is well recognized at the IEA. For decades, oil has been the world's leading energy provider. In 1990, for example, oil accounted for 37% of global energy demand and coal stood at 25%. By 2010, oil was at 32% of demand and coal 28%. In 2030, however, oil will account for just 28% of global demand as coal takes the lead to 29%.
Why we need more coal
For a vast multitude of the human race, the world is a dark place. They toil relentlessly in primitive conditions, working from "can't see to can't see." Over 1.2 billion people lack any electricity and another 2 billion or more have inadequate access to power. A key goal of the Copenhagen Accord of 2010 is to provide energy to these impoverished populations. Coal is the only fuel that can sustainably meet growing global demand at such a scale.
In a world of 8.5 billion people by 2035, 65% of whom live in cities, the need for all energy sources will be readily apparent. And the world's endowment of coal dwarfs those of oil, natural gas and nuclear. The U.S. Geological Survey has indicated there are as many as 16 trillion tons of coal distributed across the globe. Combined with Clean Coal Technologies this international resource is the cornerstone of more people, living better and living longer.