04 May 2010

Reality Check

Gregor Macdonald asks the following question:
The United States is the second largest consumer of coal in the world. Sitting just behind China, but ahead of India, Japan, Russia, South Africa, and Germany, the US consumes about 560 mtoe of coal each year. (million tons oil equivalent). US coal consumption has been largely flat the past 10 years, as the rest of the world has raced ahead. In 2008, the most recent year for available global coal use data, total world consumption of coal reached 3303.7 mtoe. Thus, the US accounted for nearly 17.00% of total world coal use. Within the US, coal accounts for nearly half (48.7% ) of all power generation. To give up coal completely would be impossibility but let’s imagine for a moment such a circumstance. Question: if the United States stopped using coal today, given current coal consumption trends, how many years would need to pass before the rest of the world (ROW) replaced the lost consumption from the US?
Here is his answer, based on the graphs that he presents above:
Based on current trends, and using a conservative 4.00% annual growth rate in global coal consumption (when in truth it is currently closer to 4.7 -5.00%), I project that the world could replace 100% of lost US demand in 5 years. The force behind this trend of course is not the 2 billion people in the developed world, but the nearly 5 billion people in the developing world.
These numbers suggest that the driving issue behind what is called "climate policy" is really "energy policy." Further, the challenge is not, as many in the rich world would have things, simply about stabilizing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but doing so while simultaneously and dramatically expanding energy supply around the world, especially among the 5 billion people in what are often called "developing countries." The world faces an energy challenge of enormous magnitude. Climate policy discussions too often ignore or minimize the energy challenge.

(H/T FT Energy Source)