Peak oil may have occurred in 2008 (see Dr Michael Lardelli from the University of Adelaide, “The peak oil production has passed”, Ockham’s Razor, ABC Radio National, 2 May 2010: http://www.blogotariat.com/node/205789 ). Peak coal may be only 10 years away and may provide a major attendant market-based carbon price stimulus for rapid implementation of renewable energy according to a very important paper that has just been published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature, specifcally Richard Heinberg & David Fridley, “The end of cheap coal”, Nature 468, 367-369 (18 November 2010), online 17 November 2010: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v468/n7322/full/468367a.html .
The Nature summary says that “New forecasts suggest that coal reserves will run out faster than many believe. Energy policies relying on cheap coal have no future, say Richard Heinberg and David Fridley. World energy policy is gripped by a fallacy — the idea that coal is destined to stay cheap for decades to come. This assumption supports investment in 'clean-coal' technology and trumps serious efforts to increase energy conservation and develop alternative energy sources.” Key figures from the paper on coal production and consumption (Figure 1) and global coal reserves (Figure 2 ) can be seen here: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v468/n7322/fig_tab/468367a_ft.html .
The key point is that readily extracted, good quality (and hence cheap) coal may peak by 2020 with attendant steep price rises. The Nature paper concludes thus (see: http://www.blogotariat.com/node/205789 ) : “At the very least, the USGS should urgently complete a new national coal survey. And it is essential for the security of energy supplies globally that Chinese domestic coal production and the timing of its likely decline is better understood.
We believe that it is unlikely that world energy supplies can continue to meet projected demand beyond 2020. Therefore, new limits on energy consumption will be essential in all sectors of society — including agriculture, transportation and manufacturing — and will be imposed by energy prices and shortages if they are not achieved through planning and policy.
Supply limits also have implications for the development of clean-coal technology. Also known as carbon capture and storage (CCS), clean coal is one proposal for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions while growing energy supplies. Because maintaining economic growth while cutting coal out of the energy equation globally will be difficult, and because nearly everyone assumes that coal will remain cheap far into the foreseeable future, the idea is to keep the carbon dioxide produced by burning coal from going into the atmosphere.
There are two hitches: the difficulty of scaling up such an enterprise, and its effect on electricity prices. As many analysts have noted, the scale and cost of clean-coal infrastructure will be vast13. Energy analysts agree that this will boost the price of electricity, but the scheme could work if coal prices remain low. If they don’t, building new coal plants — conventional or clean — makes little economic sense, except to replace ageing inefficient infrastructure.
Nations should immediately begin to plan for higher fossil-fuel prices and to make maximum possible investments in energy efficiency and renewable-energy infrastructure. Even then the world will have to accept a slowdown in economic growth.”
For how Australia can implement 100% renewable energy for $370 billion by 2020 (40% wind, 60% Concentrated Solar Thermal with molten salts energy storage for 24/7 operation) see the much-acclaimed Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) Zero Carbon Australia 2020 (ZCA2020) Report: (Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan): http://www.beyondzeroemissions.org/about/bze-brand . For an extensive compendia of useful advances in this area see other articles on this “100% renewable energy by 2020” website: https://sites.google.com/site/100renewableenergyby2020/ .