[Yesterday, my page views hit a peak -- 35,000. I take that as a sign readers are very interested in this subject. Here I present calculations I haven't seen anywhere else, and since different sources provide different numbers, please view this as a crude estimates. I welcome corrections.]
The goal of this post is to explore how peak oil and, yes, peak coal might affect the world’s effort to stabilize CO2 concentrations.
At recent growth rates for oil consumption, we are all but certain to peak in oil production within two decades — and if we follow the recent trend-line for coal use (and for coal reserves), we could hit peak coal within three decades. It looks like it simply isn’t possible for oil and coal use to sustain for decades the trends that led CO2 emissions to rise 3% per year since 2000, if the analysis below is roughly correct. That would be a very good piece of news.
OIL: I have already written at length on oil (see “Peak Oil? Bring it on!”, longer version here). In 2006, the world consumed about 85 million barrels a day (MMBD) of oil. Oil use had been rising about 2% per year, though the recent price jump may have slowed things a tad. And, for the first time, not just the “peakists” but the CEOs of major oil companies think we have a big, big problem.
The CEO of Royal Dutch/Shell emailed his employees, “Shell estimates that after 2015 supplies of easy-to-access oil and gas will no longer keep up with demand.” The CEO of French oil company Total S.A., said that production of even 100 million barrels a day by 2030 will be “difficult.” The CEO of ConocoPhillips said, “I don’t think we are going to see the supply going over 100 million barrels a day.”
COAL: World coal consumption and production in 2006 was about 6 billion metric tons according to the World Coal Institute. World recoverable reserves at the end of 2005 vary by source, but the World Energy Council puts them at 850 billion metric tons, which seems to be a relatively typical figure. Thus, global coal reserves would last some 140 years, at current rates of production and consumption. That said, global coal reserve estimates are of “poor quality” and may be lower than we think, as one recent German study noted (here). The U.S. National Academy of Sciences made a similar point about U.S. reserves last year (here):