Peak Cheap Coal Approaching?

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Although coal is plentiful, we may see the end of cheap coal within a few decades, according to a report published in Nature. The researchers urge a reevaluation of the economic viability of clean coal technologies.

Current predictions of continuing low prices do not reflect revised estimates of easily mined supplies, said Richard Heinberg and David Fridley, both fellows with the Post-Carbon Institute.

Over the past 20 years, estimates of coal supplies have fallen further than the amount of coal consumed would explain, partly because nations such as Germany and South Africa have reduced their estimates of economically recoverable coal.

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The researchers point out that the United States has not updated their reserve estimates since 1974. They suggest that the United States reevaluate how much coal remains in the ground, and estimate the cost to dig it up.

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Another reason the world may see increases in coal prices is China’s rapidly growing demand, Heinberg and Fridley said. China has large reserves of coal but is unable to extract them fast enough. China now imports coal from the United States and Australia, which increases prices and costs on both ends.

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All nations should plan for higher coal prices, they say. They warn that coal may become like oil, as it becomes more expensive to extract, prices may become increasingly volatile.