A few weeks ago I mentioned a study showing that coal reserves are not nearly as extensive as the "200-year supply" invoked by coal boosters.

Now Richard Heinberg brings word of another study that reaches substantially similar conclusions. The main thrust is that the quality of easily accessible coal is declining and that prices are almost certain to go up, and soon. An interesting correlate — which hadn’t really occurred to me, but makes sense — is that rising coal prices are going to make it less likely for carbon sequestration to catch on.

Heinberg’s conclusion is worth reading in full:

Taken together, the EWG and IFE reports deliver a shocking message. For a world already concerned about future oil supplies, uncertainties about coal undercut one of the primary strategies — turning supposedly abundant coal into a liquid fuel — that is being touted for maintaining global transport networks. The sustainability of China’s economic growth, which has largely been based on a rapid upsurge in coal consumption, is thrown into question. And the ability of the US to maintain its coal-powered electricity grids in coming decades is also cast into doubt.

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As noted in MuseLetter #179, if future coal supplies are dramatically reduced this could be very good news for the global climate; however, that benefit would be tempered significantly if higher coal prices discourage the adoption of carbon sequestration technologies.

In summary, we now have two authoritative studies reaching largely consistent conclusions with devastating implications for the global economy. Surely these studies deserve follow-up reviews of the data by the IEA and the DoE. If the EWG and IFE conclusions hold, the world will need to respond quickly and with an enormous shift of investment capital in the directions of energy conservation and of developing renewable sources of electricity. Climate concerns are already drawing some nations in these directions; however, even the nations leading such efforts may not be proceeding nearly fast enough. For China and the United States, the world’s two most coal-dependent countries, the message could not be clearer: whether or not global climate concerns are taken seriously, it is time to fundamentally revise the current energy paradigm.

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