What the price of coal means

As the price of oil has soared, so has that of coal. Both are demand-led. This is a very strong hint from the market that calls to phase out coal in the near future are doomed. Since CCS makes no commercial sense in the absence of meaningful CO2 limits, that too is doomed.

Just thought you ought to know 🙂

52 thoughts on “What the price of coal means”

  1. The issue with replacing something where capital has already been sunk is that the operating costs of the new systems have to be lower by enough that the cost of the capital to build can be recovered. In short, you got the wrong end of the stick.

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  2. It might have been helpful to post at least a link showing the changes with contract and spot prices of Coal.

    [Yes, but I was in a hurry and was lazy. John Fleck had some good numbers not long ago – check out http://www.inkstain.net/fleck/ -W]

    Googling as much shows Coal is well on its way to pricing itself out of the energy market. The Cheap Coal cake is a lie.

    [Coal can’t price itself out of the market. Thats the point. The price is rising because people want it -W]

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  3. Let’s do the Time Waaaarp!

    “The price rises must be temporary: there’s no inherit limitation on Kerosene oil supply as there seems to be with Whale Oil.”

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  4. And whoever made that comment was perfectly correct, Sam-Hec. Following the replacement of whale oil by crude, we’ve had over 100 years of very cheap oil. We’ll get at least another 100 years of cheap coal (probably several times that).

    Why are greenies so dumb???

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  5. The issue with whale oil is that supply, while still ample, was unable to meet growing demand. Demand found something else compatible. Coal produces electricity…lots of other things are compatible with that same demand. Coal need only price itself too high for a short while to make itself irrelevant, no matter how much there is left.

    And then there is the issue of clean-up costs (mercury, CO2, ruined mountains and rivers etc; which if accounted for seals its fate, preferably in the ground.

    Only subsidies and protection from having to clean up is what is keeping us from the post-coal age.

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  6. The issue is not what the price of coal is, it is what the price of extraction is or the price of extraction plus any taxes on the externalities that coal causes. If that price is above the cost of alternative energy sources, then there will be investment into the alternatives, if not, no one will invest because the price of coal has room to move downwards and wipe out their investment. That is what happened in the 1980s with oil and alternative fuels.

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  7. Supporting evidence of the process at work:
    http://grist.org/news/2008/07/25/china_wind/

    Remember that Coal in China is even more heavily subsidized than in the US.

    It’s kinda hard to run out of wind. And sunshine for that mater. WRT the time scale of human civilization, these are truly resources without any ‘inherent limitation’.

    No Inherenting the Wind…{ahem}.

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  8. Mugwump,
    “We’ll get at least another 100 years of cheap coal (probably several times that).”

    Improbable, likely a massive overestimate.

    The most dramatic example of unexplained changes in data is the downgrading of the proven
    German hard coal reserves by 99 percent (!) from 23 billion tons to 0.183 billion tons in 2004.

    Poland has downgraded its hard coal reserves by 50 percent compared to 1997 and has downgraded its lignite and subbituminous coal reserves in two steps to zero since 1997.

    For some countries such as Vietnam proven reserves have not been updated for up to 40 years. The data for China were last updated in 1992, in spite of the fact that about 20 percent of their then stated reserves have been produced since then,

    There’s some good news:
    Indian hard coal reserves have been upgraded…
    Australian hard coal reserves have been upgraded…
    But:

    All other countries have individually downgraded their hard coal reserves by a combined 35 percent over the same period. In the global sum, hard coal reserves have been downgraded by 15 percent.

    From the Energy Watch Group’s 2007 Coal report, they also conclude that:
    “Global coal production to peak around 2025 at 30 percent above present production in the best case.”

    http://www.energywatchgroup.org/fileadmin/global/pdf/EWG_Report_Coal_10-07-2007ms.pdf

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  9. From the Energy Watch Group’s 2007 Coal report

    Sounds like an appropriately non-partisan group, no?

    Think again:

    Members are:
    Dr. Harry Lehmann, World Council for Renewable Energy

    Stefan Peter, Institute for Sustainable Solutions and Innovations

    Jörg Schindler, Managing Director of Ludwig Bölkow Systemtechnik GmbH

    Dr. Werner Zittel, Ludwig Bölkow Systemtechnik GmbH

    Advisory group:
    Institute for Solar Energy Technics, Kassel, Germany (Prof. J. Schmid)

    Ecofys, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    World Watch Institute, Washington, USA (Chr. Flavin)

    Eurosolar, Bonn

    World Council for Renewable Energy, Bonn, Germany (Dr. Hermann Scheer)

    Swiss Energy Foundation, Zurich, Switzerland (Berhard Piller)

    Centre for Energy Alternative, Seoul, Korea (Prof. Pil-Ryul Lee)

    Joint Research Center, Petten, The Netherlands (Dr. E. Peteves)

    University of Salzburg, Department of Political Science, Austria (Prof. V. Lauber)

    You think that lot are going to be honest about the future of coal?
    They’re just another bunch of taxpayer-funded do-nothings trying to justify their existence.

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  10. Check what David Rutledge on TheOilDrum states about Peak Coal.

    (since he has many other things to do with his time, maybe some readers here will contemplate his words.)

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  11. Mugwump,

    It’s notable you didn’t address methodology or the other people coming to similar conclusions with different methods.

    If we’re not at peak oil then the current blip is just a blip. Yeah? Only a complete idiot like me would have bugged out of the stock markets completely, anticipating that we’re on the verge of a succession of recessions/depressions and international instability.

    With your take on this should you not buy shares? Take out loans to buy shares. If you can find someone to borrow from, remortgage your house, and buy shares in the same sectors that have done well in the last decade. After all talk of peak oil/gas/coal is nought but scaremongering by alarmists…

    So go on old boy – buy low, sell high. 😉
    Mwah ha ha ha!

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  12. Ooh Cobbly, you got me there with your razor-sharp greeny mind.

    Not.

    Here is what I said:

    The price rises must be temporary: there’s no inherit limitation on coal supply as there seems to be with oil.

    IE, an implicit acknowledgment that while we may not be at *peak* oil, supply growth certainly seems to have problems.

    FWIW, I have been out of equities for 12 months, having correctly foreseen the credit crisis. But I am still keeping my powder dry; the bottom is a way off yet.

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  13. Mugwump,

    For what it’s worth I am not a green. I’m a former Thatcherite who sees no attainable political solution to either Peak O/G/C or AGW, so now has no politics to speak of.

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  14. Ok. There’s no attainable political solution for peak [insert favourite fossil fuel here] because the markets will sort it out far more efficiently. Look how SUV consumption fell off a cliff in the US when gas hit $4 a gallon; no government could have made that happen.

    As for attainable political solutions to AGW: it’s hard to sell a solution to a non-existent problem.

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  15. Coal usage is increasing. Even in Europe.

    http://www.forbes.com/opinions/forbes/2 … 1/094.html

    “A number of influential people in Russia, China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam say the planet is now entering a 30-year cooling period, the second half of a normal cycle driven by cyclical changes in the sun’s output and currents in the Pacific Ocean. Their theory leaves true believers in carbon catastrophe livid.

    To judge by actions, not words, the carbon-warming view hasn’t come close to persuading a political majority even in nations considered far more environmentally enlightened than China and India. Europe’s coal consumption is rising, not falling, and the Continent won’t come close to meeting the Kyoto targets for carbon reduction. Australia is selling coal to all comers.”

    The only way to compete with coal cost and 24/7 availability is with nuclear. If we are going to do nuclear big time let’s use “green” nuclear. Thorium is the “green” nuclear.

    This technology was demonstrate in the 50’s and 60’s but was abandoned because it was much harder to produce weapons grade material (compared to uranium). The military considerations favored the uranium fuel cycle.

    More specifically LFTR (liquid fluoride thorium reactors) compared to uranium reactors burn fuel 100x more efficiently without reprocessing, result in ~100x less waste and are inherently safer and should cost less to build.

    In addition, since LFTR is a high temp low pressure process it can use water or air cooling. Thus areas where water is scarce, could replace there coal fired plants with low cost, clean thorium power plants. Much more cost effective and reliable than the wind and solar plants.

    Uranium LWR : Thorium LFTR

    Fuel Reserves (relative) __________________ 1 : 100 (1000s yrs)
    Fuel Mining Waste Volume (relative) ____ 1000 : 1
    Fuel Burning Efficiency _______________ ~1% : >95%
    Radioactive Waste Volume (relative) ______ 40 : 1
    Radioactive Waste Isolation Period __10000yrs : 80% 10yrs, 20% 300yrs

    Plant Cost (relative) _____________________ 1 : less than 1
    Plant Thermal Efficiency _____________ ~33% : ~50%
    Cooling Requirements _______________ Water : Water or Air
    Plant Safety _______________________ Good : Very Good
    Weapons Grade Material Production ____ Yes : No(very hard)
    Burn Existing Nuclear Waste ___________ No : Yes
    Development Status _______ Commercial Now : Demonstrated

    for more info see

    http://www.energyfromthorium.com/

    http://www.energyfromthorium.com/ppt/thoriumVsUranium.ppt

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  16. Mugwump

    …the markets will sort it out far more efficiently.

    With what magic wand will the markets replace fossil fuel energy? Sorry but I’m not convinced we have a replacement (unless we can crack fusion). For the same reason I’ve never been convinced we can replace fossil fuels in the face of the risks of climate change.

    On that subject; as I have been saying for years, UK claims to have reduced emissions are not founded when “emissions exportation” is accounted for: BBC “UK in ‘delusion’ over emissions” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7536421.stm Our emissions reductions have occurred as our manufacturing base has dwindled.

    Demand destruction, it’s just an economic term. When it applies to non necessities like walkman, cars, holidays abroad it’s an inconvenience. When it applies to food and fuel it can be a killer. There’s a common factor in many revolutions – lack of food. More than that, what will be the psychological impact on a culture that assumes continued growth and technological advancement?

    Deny cimate change all you like, the science is clear it’s ongoing and poses a risk. But in the last few months I’ve been persuaded that Peak Oil/Gas is a more immediate and greater threat.

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  17. The markets (people) will only give up coal when they are given an acceptable alternative.

    Thus far, do without, wind, solar, … is not cutting it.

    It seems to me that if one really believes co2 is harmful then more nuclear is the most realistic alternative to coal. It seems nations are not going to give up low cost 24/7 energy (see Forbes link below). Its coal or nuclear.

    We need to change from uranium to thorium. Thorium is the “green” nuclear.
    http://www.energyfromthorium.com/

    http://www.forbes.com/opinions/forbes/2 … 1/094.html

    “A number of influential people in Russia, China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam say the planet is now entering a 30-year cooling period, the second half of a normal cycle driven by cyclical changes in the sun’s output and currents in the Pacific Ocean. Their theory leaves true believers in carbon catastrophe livid.

    To judge by actions, not words, the carbon-warming view hasn’t come close to persuading a political majority even in nations considered far more environmentally enlightened than China and India. Europe’s coal consumption is rising, not falling, and the Continent won’t come close to meeting the Kyoto targets for carbon reduction. Australia is selling coal to all comers.”

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  18. Solar/Wind/Thorium(The Boy Scout’s nuclear fuel of choice)/Cow Farts? Why not just burn Snake Oil? 😉

    As we’re seeing now with oil, you don’t need to get past peak to suffer deleterious effects. And as coal becomes more of an attractive option it’s use will increase, which will bring peak coal forward. Bad news if those who say it’s as early as 2030 are right.

    People can believe in a continuing cooling with the same fervour they believe in God, Santa or the Tooth Fairy. Have they any formal models to support their claims?

    PS, people might find this video of interest, Arithmetic, Population and Energy , from Prof Albert Bartlett.

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  19. Have they any formal models to support their [cooling] claims?

    Umm, look out the window Cobblers. The temperature has declined and continues to do so. Now, that does not disprove the global warming alarmists but I know of no model that predicted this. The problem with the models is they have very little (if any) predictive skill. That’s what most skeptics (like me) object to.

    [Errmmm… hasn’t this got a bit silly? How would looking out of the window help you assess global temperature? As to the fabled temperature declines… month to month variation is, of course, part of all the GCMs, though aparently a part you don’t know about; the long-term trend remains positive -W]

    As for market power: replacing oil is easy: nuclear. Use up all the old plutonium from the bombs first, then the uranium, then thorium. That should buy us a couple of hundred years in which to perfect solar/fusion. For those industries that must have fossil fuels (eg aviation), make it from coal.

    None of this requires a government mandate. Just wait for pricing pressure to make it economical. That’s the power of markets.

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  20. mugwump,

    “As for market power: replacing oil is easy: nuclear. Use up all the old plutonium from the bombs first, then the uranium, then thorium. That should buy us a couple of hundred years in which to perfect solar/fusion. For those industries that must have fossil fuels (eg aviation), make it from coal.”

    We have 1000s of yrs of fuel for thorium nuclear. That is from just known reserves. IF the price went up and we started looking for it we would find a lot more. 3-4x more thorium out there than uranium.

    Like

  21. Forbes link

    http://www.forbes.com/opinions/forbes/2008/0811/094.html

    “A number of influential people in Russia, China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam say the planet is now entering a 30-year cooling period, the second half of a normal cycle driven by cyclical changes in the sun’s output and currents in the Pacific Ocean. Their theory leaves true believers in carbon catastrophe livid.

    To judge by actions, not words, the carbon-warming view hasn’t come close to persuading a political majority even in nations considered far more environmentally enlightened than China and India. Europe’s coal consumption is rising, not falling, and the Continent won’t come close to meeting the Kyoto targets for carbon reduction. Australia is selling coal to all comers.”

    Like

  22. Errmmm… hasn’t this got a bit silly? How would looking out of the window help you assess global temperature?

    “looking out the window” is a metaphor for “go measure it”. Cobblers asked “Have they any formal models to support their [cooling] claims?” which is irrelevant since the physical reality is the world is cooling, regardless of what any of the models say.

    [background: when my wife or kids ask me “what’s the weather today?” I usually respond with “look out the window”. Nope, they don’t find me very amusing either…]

    As to the fabled temperature declines… month to month variation is, of course, part of all the GCMs, though aparently a part you don’t know about; the long-term trend remains positive

    Most AGW alarmists define “long-term” to be “since it was last a lot colder than today”. Obviously such a statement is vacuous.

    More recently, we’ve seen a decade of gradual cooling, not just month-to-month variation. Show me a climate model that predicted that before the fact (ie back in the 1990s – no doubt the alarmists are furiously tweaking their models as we speak in order to come up with ex post facto fits to the current cooling, an effort they’ll no doubt succeed in given the overparameterized nature of the models, but such fits will prove nothing)

    [We haven’t seen a decade of cooling -W]

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  23. We haven’t seen a decade of cooling -W

    Yes we have

    [I’m afraid I can’t see the trend line on that. If you mean, are there any 10 year periods when the monthly start temp is higher than the monthly end temp in the GCM simulations of the last 20 years, then the answer is yes, so I’m still failing to see your point -W]

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  24. If you mean, are there any 10 year periods when the monthly start temp is higher than the monthly end temp in the GCM simulations of the last 20 years, then the answer is yes, so I’m still failing to see your point -W

    What do the psychologists call it when people ignore all evidence contradicting their deeply-held beliefs?

    Obviously we’re not just talking about a difference between the monthly start and end temps, since in this case it is a whopping -0.71 degrees C. From that graph, if I had to bet, I’d say the decadal trend is currently negative.

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  25. mugwump writes:“From that graph, if I had to bet, I’d say the decadal trend is currently negative. “

    You’d be wrong. It’s positive.

    And, to head off the next most likely reply … it’s also positive if you use the satellite rather than surface temp record (just checked this w/RSS).

    Even starting from the peak of the 1998 El Nino, the 10-year trend is positive, not negative.

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  26. There’s no way you can get a statistically significant positive trend from the final decade of that graph (and to head off the next most likely reply, there’s no way the negative trend is statistically significant either).

    Hence my choice of language: “From that graph, if I had to bet, I’d say the decadal trend is currently negative.”

    [Its already been pointed out to you that the trend is positive. Why are you so desperate to find a negative trend? We all know that the trend is upwards. Arguing otherwise is just stupid. If you don’t like global warming, argue about its economic impact. Don’t argue about the observations. Be a skeptic not a septic -W]

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  27. That would be a rather misleading use of language. Apparently, what you mean is:

    “The trend for the past ten years is positive, but not statistically significant, so I’m going to simply assert that it’s negative.”

    I foresee a brilliant career for you in any field where lying to the public is necessary.

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  28. No, what I meant is:

    “From that graph, if I had to bet, I’d say the decadal trend is currently negative.”

    In other words, if you forced me, I would bet that once enough data has been collected post-1998 to determine a statistically significant trend, that trend will be negative.

    As for lying to the public: never in the field of human science have so many been so misled by so few alarmists.

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  29. [Its already been pointed out to you that the trend is positive. Why are you so desperate to find a negative trend? We all know that the trend is upwards. Arguing otherwise is just stupid. If you don’t like global warming, argue about its economic impact. Don’t argue about the observations. Be a skeptic not a septic -W]

    WTF? The only statistically justifiable claim about the trend from 1998 is that it is *zero*. Not positive. Arguing otherwise is just stupid. Your claim that it is positive is simply false. If you “all know that it is upwards” then you’re more deluded than I realized.

    That said, if forced to bet, I would say that the trend since 1998 will turn out to be negative once there are enough years to measure it with any significance. Why would I bet that? Because of the huge plunge in temperature over the last couple of years.

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  30. The only statistically justifiable claim about the trend from 1998 is that it is *zero*.

    I just checked it: both Hadcrut and RSS fail t-tests for non-zero temperature gradient since 1998.

    Even the less stringent error bar approach has RSS with a trend of 0.47C +- 0.54C per century over that period.

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  31. The only statistically justifiable claim about the trend from 1998 is that it is *zero*. Not positive. Arguing otherwise is just stupid. Your claim that it is positive is simply false.

    Wrong, wrong, wrong!

    The only demonstrably false statement is your original claim that “we’ve seen a decade of gradual cooling, not just month-to-month variation”.

    Any of the following statements would be true:

    (1) The past 10 years’ data show a positive trend.
    (2) The past 10 years’ data show a positive trend, but one that is not significantly different from 0 at 95%.
    (3) The past 10 years’ data do not show a trend that is significantly different from 0 at 95%.

    But your claim — that the data show a cooling trend — is objectively and indisputably false.

    And, thus, it’s perhaps not surprising to see you now backpedaling. You’re trying to rephrase your original claim in a form that is currently untestable: you now are simply speculating that “future” data will show a negative trend. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but that is not what you originally claimed.

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  32. Sam-Hec writes:

    How did you ‘check it’?
    Show us the math. Please. Both of you.

    The HADCRUT3v surface temperature data are here:
    http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/data/temperature/hadcrut3vgl.txt

    or, if you prefer, you can use the RSS MSU satellite temperature data, here:
    http://www.remss.com/pub/msu/monthly_time_series/RSS_Monthly_MSU_AMSU_Channel_TLT_Anomalies_Land_and_Ocean_v03_1.txt

    The HADCRUT data currently run through June, and the RSS data run through July. In either case, import the data into any statistics package or spreadsheet, extract the most recent 120 months’ data, and use linear least squares analysis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Least_squares) to determine the best-fit model for the data.

    You should find a positive slope of 0.457 K/century using the HADCRUT data, or a positive slope of 0.715 K/century using the RSS data. Neither of these is statistically significant at 95%, even without correction for temporal autocorrelation. Many different approaches could be used to model and compensate for autocorrelation, but this is irrelevant, since they’ll only affect the uncertainty estimate for the trend, and not the sign of the trend, which is positive.

    It should be noted that extending this to a longer term (e.g., using the entire period of satellite data availability, 1979-present) does show a statistically significant (and positive) trend, even with a stringent correction for autocorrelation.

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  33. J – you’re pretty much reduced to petty points about when to pick the start of the period. Yes, I admit, the last decade does not strictly show a cooling trend, but the last 6 years do, and the last 2 years show a huge cooling.

    Why aren’t you shouting about this from the rooftops? I still recall the squeals from IPCC/Team hockeystick that 1998 was the hottest year in 1000 years (or was that a million?) and that if we did not all immediately repent our evil carbon emitting ways we were doomed to hell on earth. Well, they were wrong. Flat wrong.

    So let me revise, to make you happy:

    We’ve not seen any warming for a decade.

    That is the only valid claim you can make about the last decade. It is what I should have said from the get-go. Mea culpa: I did not run the statistics before I made the claim. But it changes nothing about my argument: none of the climate models predicted flatlining (and now major cooling). All the alarmists who have been screaming gloom and doom for the past decade have been completely wrong.

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  34. Show us the math.

    Sam-Hec, you can download the data from a number of places. I got mine from Anthony Watts blog: http://wattsupwiththat.files.wordpress.com/2008/02/4metrics_temp_anomalies.txt

    Then use standard least-squares to fit a line and calculate the error estimates. A gentle introduction is here.

    But, you know, be very careful using objective statistics to validate the claims of alarmists. Anyone straying from the received wisdom of global warming will be smeared by the climate science community (most lately by the chair of the IPCC Pachauri who describes us as “flat-earthers”). As with religion, if you are a true believer, you’re better off just swallowing the claims of alarmists without question.

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