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The coal boom: burning ambitions

February 1, 2011

“The IEA estimates that China, which generates more than 70% of its electricity with coal, will build 600 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired power capacity in the next quarter-century—as much as is currently generated with coal in America, Japan and the European Union put together. China’s efforts to improve coal supplies include the building of a new east-west passenger railway line, set to open in 2013, which should free existing tracks for coal transport. New high-speed and light railways across the country may alleviate bottlenecks further. But for the foreseeable future the country will depend on ships laden with foreign coal. … America, the world’s second-biggest coal producer after China, has mammoth reserves and a power industry that is turning against coal. Environmental regulations and cheap shale gas will leave miners looking for new markets overseas.”

The Economist's analysis of global coal reserves

Source: The Economist, January 27 2011


  • The IEA’s Global Energy Outlook 2010 foresees a stabilization of the global coal fired electricity generation around 2020 at 11TWh, approx. 40% above current level.
  • China’s share of global coal production has increased from 25% in 1995 to 39% in 2008. Still the country recently turned into a net coal importer, especially facing high demand for imported metallurgical coal.


  • China’s coal reserves are definitely not infinite. The 38yrs lifetime calculated by the Economist will be a reason for the Chinese government to eliminate the coal-dependence for electricity generation long before 2050. However, the climate change battle will be fought in the era of growing coal consumption in China.
  • India still has a lot of coal reserves and the government is trying to create alignment in the national coal mining sector to enable increased output. However, imports from Indonesia, South Africa, Australia and potentially the USA will certainly be needed in India to enable a building boom like China has experienced in the past decade.

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com