Friday, November 8, 2013

The Big Shift: From Oil to Coal

Pollution envelopes the Chinese city of Harbin on October 20, 2013.

From the South China Morning Post:

Coal will surpass oil as the world's dominant fuel by 2018, and the mainland will be the dominant contributor to the development, an energy consultancy said. 
The prediction highlights the difficulty to rein in reliance on pollution-prone coal, given its relative abundance and economic attractiveness. 
"China and India's aggressive power requirements will be responsible for coal's burgeoning role in energy, but the United States, Europe and [the rest of] Asia will still contribute to coal demand," said London-based Wood Mackenzie's president of global markets William Durbin at the sidelines of the World Energy Congress. 
Driven by urbanisation and industrialisation, "China's demand for coal will almost single-handedly propel the growth of coal as the dominant global fuel", he added.
Coal is China's primary energy source.  Coal consumption has more than doubled since 2002.  Oil and natural gas have also more than doubled in the same time but do not come near the same level of energy production as coal.
Chinese fossil fuel consumption from 1965-2012.

China accounts for roughly 50% of the world's annual coal consumption, and is both the largest producer and importer of coal.  Indonesia, Australia and the US are some of China's biggest sources of imports.  Chinese coal production mainly comes from northern states such as Inner Mongolia and Shanxi.  China has roughly 12.6% of the world's proved coal reserves.
World coal proved reserves by country (source: Wikipedia).
One thing I found absent from the SCMP article is any discussion about water scarcity.  Water is required for washing coal of impurities before it is burnt, and water is needed for the turbines of the coal burning power plants.

Polluted air and polluted and scarce water are some of the side effects of such a large increase (acceleration) in coal consumption.  One solution to China's apparent lack of water is the massive South-North transfer project.  The project has lead to a migration of nearly half a million people - many of whom have been evicted and forced from their homes.

Switching power generation from older power plants to new power plants may help China deal with their environmental issues.  Traditional coal plants use a conveyor system to deliver coal to the ignition source.  Modern coal plants use a pulverizer to break the coal apart and then inject into the ignition source -- similar to carburetors and fuel injection found in automobiles.

Increase use of technology as well as imports of cleaner coal may mean that China's current rate of consumption may not be sustained.

No comments:

Post a Comment