COAL: THE OTHER BLACK GOLD
(Oleh: Hedi Hastriawan – 03111002011)
Despite coal’s reputation as the world’s most environmentally abrasive fuel, the expanding global economy dictates that over the next 30 years demand for coal will be greater than ever, as Chris Canndiscovered.
The energy debate has escalated in the past year as the public’s distaste for fossil fuels intensifies and acceptance of nuclear power as a ‘green’ energy source grows in spite of its traditional reputation as nature’s enemy. Global petroleum stocks have been scrutinised and the profile of publicly popular renewable fuels continues to rise.
Coal is one of the world’s most efficient energy forms and the fastest growing fossil fuel so far this century but is also the poster boy for dirty fossil fuels. It has increasingly come under fire from environmentalists and many of the lay public, who would like to see more green alternative fuels used. But the increase in the public’s interest in energy has led to a wider understanding of an unpopular truth – coal is necessary to help fuel the world’s growing energy demands and wind, solar, hydro and bio energy alternatives will not be able to even partly replace it in the foreseeable future.
A recent report on leading energy news service Energy Tribune aptly encapsulated that point: “Too many people focus on what they consider desirable and how the world should be, rather than taking the world as it is. As such, they ignore the gap between what is theoretically possible in their most perfect of worlds and what is practical at a given time.”
“This is one reason governments continually fail to make any significant difference when it comes to the world’s energy mix. It is also why the recent legislative push toward alternative fuels (in the US), including renewable biofuels, such as ethanol, is likely to fail.”
Nuclear and renewable energy sources made up 10% of global consumption in 1980, which has risen to 14% today and is estimated to remain static up to 2030. Coal has not only maintained about 25% of global consumption since 1980 but is predicted to increase its stake to 27% by 2030. As global energy requirements grow by 60% over the next 30 years, largely thanks to the industrialisation of China, coal remains the cheapest and most prolific fuel.
“We believe that coal use will increase under any foreseeable scenario because it is cheap and abundant,” The Future of Coal report published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said.
“Coal can provide usable energy at a cost of between $1-2 per million Btu compared to $6-12/MBtu for oil and natural gas. Moreover, coal resources are distributed in regions of the world other than the Persian Gulf, the unstable region that contains the largest reserves of oil and gas. In particular the US, China and India have immense coal reserves. For them, as well as for importers of coal in Europe and East Asia, economics and security of supply are significant incentives for the continuing use of coal.
“Carbon-free technologies, chiefly nuclear and renewable energy for electricity, will also play an important role in a carbon-constrained world, but absent a technological breakthrough that we do not foresee, coal, in significant quantities, will remain indispensable.”
Unlike oil, there is no speculation over longterm coal resources with the world’s proven reserves at the end of 2006 standing at 909,064 Mt. More than 80% of those reserves are hosted by six countries – the US, Russia, China, India, Australia and South Africa.
According to the World Coal Institute, coal will maintain its position as the principal source of electricity for the next 30 years accounting for about 40% of that market: “With the availability of abundant, affordable and geographically disperse reserves, coal has a vital role to play in a world where reliable supplies of affordable energy will be essential to global development.”
There is the equivalent of more than five hundred, 500 MW coal-fired power plants in the US with an average age of 35 years and China is currently constructing the equivalent of two 500 MW coal-fired power plants every week, and a capacity comparable to the entire UK power grid each year.
The relevant coal industry figures from across the globe for 2006 paint an accurate picture of coal’s continued growth in line with global energy demands.
Consumption growth in China, the world’s leading coal user, moderated from the strong growth seen in 2005 but remained above average at 8.7%, according to BHP Billiton’s Statistical Review of World Energy 2007. Global consumption rose by 4.5%, below last year’s rapid (5.7%) growth but well above the 10-year average. Consumption in the US declined for the first time since 2002.
The industrialisation of China, closely followed by India, has made the Asia-Pacific region the dominant coal consumer and producer in recent years. The region accounted for almost 90% of last year’s growth in coal consumption and 80% of coal production expansion. This has been the trend for at least 10 years. While coal consumption and production has been largely unchanged since 1996 within the other main geographical regions – North America; South and Central America; Europe and Eurasia; and the Middle East and Africa – the Asia-Pacific region has recorded consumption growth of more than 60% and production growth of more than 70% over that period.
Sumber: International Mining September 2007