Is coal as a main power source on its way out?

"Coal prices are jumping because the fastest-growing economies rely almost exclusively on the stuff. China’s electricity demand, met almost entirely with coal, turned it into a net importer late last year. Its voracious steel mills are shattering prices for the high-grade coking coal that stokes furnaces. Chinese officials have already signaled they’ll have a 20% coal-supply shortfall this year. (India is also under-supplied.)"

"Climate-change legislation, supported by the three remaining presidential candidates, will eventually put a price on carbon emissions, further raising the cost for coal-fired power generation."

So not only is coal facing a hit from inevitable carbon emissions legislation, but high demand from countries like India and China are driving the price way up.

What do you think - are coal's days as our main power source numbered?

12 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    Where I live, yes. About 3% of the electricity in Manitoba comes from coal or diesel in remote locations. The other 97% comes from renewable hydro. The province has mandated phasing out coal entirely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Oil will likely be phased out next because the cost of gasoline is now 4X the cost of electricity and there is enough generating capacity to run every vehicle in the province on electricity. I do not like paying high gasoline prices. My current gasoline engine car is my last gasoline engine car. The utility pays a share of the cost for many local energy efficiency measures because the energy saved can be sold elsewhere at a higher price. New wind and biomass generation will add to Manitoba's surplus of renewable energy and replace coal energy. Manitoba is already the largest exporter of electricity in North America and is working to position itself as a green energy superpower through the next century. As oil runs out, Manitoba will still be selling renewable energy at ever higher prices and using the revenue to increase its generating capacity. States such as Arizona and Colorado could follow a similar strategy with solar energy, but they don't seem to be moving aggressively enough to exploit their opportunities.

    The rest of the world will likely use coal at an increasing rate until supply limitations or an environmental catastrophe curtail its use. In the short term, it would be wiser to use methane trapped in the tundra and under the oceans in the form of methyl hydrates as a source of energy. Burning methane as a fuel would release less CO2 per unit of energy than coal and at the same time prevent the release of the methane that is burned into the atmosphere. This would slow the rate of global warming as compared to a coal energy economy and give more time to build solar, wind and nuclear generating capacity.

  • 1 decade ago

    I can only shake my head at some of the answers here... Many activities of man are now appropriately measured in terms of a foot print, how uncoordinated many of these people must be that the can not even visualize walking softly on our planet. They feel they have the right to be thunder footed and leave destruction in their paths with every venture they take, because their knowledge is so shallow and their will is so thin.

    Only by example can we show them a better path, the alternatives work!

    With only slight modification of life style a foot print can be made tiny and come into balance with nature. I wish I could spend a few days with each of these lost souls and show them how it works, how easy it is, and share with them the feelings of well being that come with doing the right thing for others and the future of the planet. I doubt they have ever had a sense of balance for anything except wanting what they perceive is their fair share... which is out of balance.


  • 1 decade ago

    Although political forces are using the ruse of carbon emissions to pile on extra taxation to make power more expensive for the poor and middle class, coal continues to be the most plentiful and the least expensive source of power in the US.

    If we were allowed to make Nuclear power it might make a dent in the coal industry.

    Meanwhile coal plants are becoming more environmentally friendly every day.

  • GABY
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    Of course not. The primary reason is because the people will not give up their lifestyle, and there is little out there to take its place other than Nuclear. Solar, Wind, etc. can help a little, but can not provide the amount of reliable 24/7 power at anywhere near a reasonable cost needed. If the population keeps increasing, and Nuclear is not built, coal use will increase.

    Legislation means nothing when the people have had enough of the coolaide drinkers La La Land dream world ideas and there lives are being changed significantly. When that happens, the ligislation will be quickly changed.

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  • Anna P
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    Just the opposite. There are new mills being built in the US to process new coal fields. The new technologies allow processing of coal with fewer emissions. China will never give up coal, and the US can't afford to, either.

  • J S
    Lv 5
    1 decade ago

    No, an increase in prices in a raw material only spurs additional development of the resource and additional production. Supply and demand.

    Areas that were marginal to mine in the past may now be feasible at higher prices, and coal seams in more remote areas come into play as the additional transportation cost can be covered by higher prices. It's probably a great time to buy coal futures.

    In some areas the higher prices will cover additional bribes (in the U.S. they're labelled "campaign contributions") needed to obtain government approval to mine in evnironmentally sensitive areas.

    At the end of the day, coal is challenged only be nuclear power as a low cost source of power. From the study that I read recently (funded by the nuclear power industry), there's lots of room left for coal power prices to go up before alternative sources become attractive. Even when they're economically attractive, alternative sources rely on the availability of sunshine, water (and gravity) or wind, so additional fossil fuel generation is typically needed to supplement production when the natural source isn't meeting demand.

    Given that world population is projected to grow 50% in the next few decades, and most of that growth will occur in developing countries where there is little to no talk of cutting coal power generation, coal power appears on track to only grow dramatically from today's levels.

    Remember that China and India's use are essentially to feed the Wal-Marts of the world with goods manufactured and services provided at a low labor cost. That will still be in place, so the growth will continue until the demand starts to dry up for the goods and services themselves.

    Americans have a low ability to control their impulses and a high tolerence for debt, so by the time they figure out that food and gas prices have risen to the point where they need to curtail their consumption of big screen TVs, personal bankrupcy rates will be high and we may be well on our way towards our next depression.

    Asian Energy Outlook up to 2020

    "World primary energy consumption is projected to expand at

    an average annual growth rate of 2.1 per cent by 2020. About 70 per cent of the increase would be accounted for by non-OECD member economies, two-thirds of which are from the Asian region."

    World Energy Consumption by Fuel Type, 1970-2020

    "Together, two of the key countries in the region—China and India—are projected to account for 97 percent of the world’s total increment in coal use (on a Btu basis). Coal continues to be a major fuel source for electricity generation worldwide, and virtually all the projected growth in world coal use is for electricity."

  • 1 decade ago

    Absolutely not. Ignoring the PC spin by environmentalists, coal is everywhere and relatively cheap on a per unit of energy basis. Plus, we (USA) have a large domestic supply of it. When oil runs out (or continues its spike), more coal will be consumed.

    That coal is a dirtier fuel than oil is a given with the current state of technology, but is much cleaner these days than even 10 years ago.

    Until the relative pricing of solar energy decreases, coal is gonna be the way to go.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Unfortunately not

    we should be going full blast into alternative energies

    but we are not

    Guess to much technology and equipment has been committed to the production of coal

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    No way.

    1. It's cheap.

    2. It's filthy.

    3. Mining it is dangerous.

    What more could a gluttonous economy wish for?

  • 1 decade ago

    I guess as long as there is denial, it will stay. The methane thing sounds interesting. Hopefully, it is a valid idea and gets promoted.

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