Coal light of day

OECD Observer

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Despite the repeated warnings about its effects on climate change, as well as resource depletion, the most recent projections from the World Energy Outlook 2009 show that coal will still remain the principal powergenerating fuel for decades to come.

In fact, its usage is set to double by 2030, 5% more compared with pre-existing projections. The adjustment takes into account a projected 10% consumption increase in non-OECD Asia, as well as an 8% decrease in the OECD area. Nowadays, an additional 217 GW of coalfired capacity is being developed throughout the world, over 80% of which is located in non-OECD countries, mostly in China.

The continued improvement of the efficiency of coal-fired generation will likely encourage more usage. So-called supercritical and ultra-supercritical technologies are projected to increase the efficiency rates from 35% in 2007 to 40% by 2030. This improvement means a relative decrease in CO2 emissions. And as the gasification and liquefaction of coal could represent alternative sources of transportation fuels, coal is becoming an even more attractive power source than before.

However, while the reputation of coal as a pollutant may improve, the core problem remains: accessible and affordable coal reserves are fewer–according to British Petroleum, at current rates of exploitation, world reserves may run out in a little over a century. If efficiency and usage rise even further, then that decline could accelerate.

World Energy Outlook 2009, available at, ISBN 978-92-64-06130-9

©OECD Observer No 278, March 2010

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