Peak coal is the point in the future at which the maximum global production of coal is reached. In a report entitled “The End of Cheap Coal,” authors Richard Heinberg and David Fridley suggest that we may reach peak coal in the next two decades, bringing an end to the relatively cheap coal prices.
The conclusion of the article is that “energy policies relying on cheap coal have no future.”
Most estimates suggest that coal reserves will last for the next few hundred years, and neither author – both of whom are Fellows with the Post-Carbon Institute in Santa Rosa, California – dispute this fact.
However the coal reserves in question are not necessarily as accessible as other coal deposits, and as a result retrieving and using that coal will become progressively more expensive. As an example, over the past five years both Germany and South Africa have reduced estimates of their recoverable coal deposits by about a third since finding that certain reserves once thought accessible are not.
Another poignant example is that of China, who simply cannot extract enough coal necessary to power the burgeoning economy.
This is not the first time fossil fuels have been subject to optimistic estimates and predictions. Official estimates of oil prices for 2010 that were issues late in the 1990s were less a third of the current oil price.
In the end, it is not that we are running out of the supplies – though we are steadily in the long run – but rather the fact that prices rise and become volatile as we near peak levels.