• Question: How long do you think it will be before we run out of coal And what will we use then ????

    Asked by markbarwell to Andrew, Daniel, Peta on 24 Nov 2011.
    • Photo: Peta Foster

      Peta Foster answered on 24 Nov 2011:

      When i last looked at this it appeared that we haven’t yet reached the peak in terms of fossil fuel extraction and this is what makes our predictions a bit fuzzier. When you reach the top of a curve and start coming down it is much easier to predict but i think we will peak some time in the next 5-10 years. Then we will have less each subsequent year than we need after that.

      This is a great little movie about the exponential function and how these things are predicted.

      We need to look into clean energy sources as soon as possible and try and get things like fusion working. In lasers, we are looking at the laser route to fusion and the bit i am working on is the spark plug for this process. 😀

    • Photo: Daniel Scully

      Daniel Scully answered on 24 Nov 2011:

      According to BP there is 147 years left of coal at the current rate of usage.

      I was surprised by that, I thought it would be shorter, but coal is only really used for power generation now.

      So when we run out we’ll need something else to run our power stations.
      It won’t be gas… the Energy Information Agency predicts we have 60 years left of natural gas.

      We’re trying to increase renewable sources, but the they will never generate sufficient amounts reliably.

      Tidal power could be very useful, especially in the UK. The Severn Estuary is one of the best places to build tidal power in the world, and it would generate 5% of the UK’s energy needs. At least it would have if the government hadn’t scrapped it:

      The world’s hope at the minute rest on the possibility of Nuclear Fusion. There is a massive global effort to develop Nuclear Fusion power plants at the moment… but we’re at least 40 years from that, if it can be done at all.

      I suspect we’ll definitely need more conventional Nuclear Fission power plants in the mean time… but we need to start building new ones now before the ones we’ve currently got need to be shut down.

    • Photo: Andrew Cairns

      Andrew Cairns answered on 24 Nov 2011:

      It is very difficult indeed to say how long we have left of natural resources like coal – if we continued to use it at the rate we did in the 19/20th century then we would have run out a lot faster than is currently predicted. What we are doing is moving to different fossil fuels for power production, and leaving the coal to be used in the industries we really really need it for, like the production of steel.

      The problem is we keep moving on to new fossil fuels, and they keep running out. We can develop new technologies for energy production, but there are some things that we really need oil, coal and gas for that can’t come from anywhere else. Eventually the price of scarce fossil fuels will be so hight that we will be forced to rely on new technologies.