Future coal supply prospects
AUTHOR: Andrew Minchener
DATE: March 2009
Worldwide, coal continues to provide a significant part of the overall energy mix and most projections suggest that, in the period to 2030 and beyond, demand is likely to increase both in absolute and relative terms. Its perceived advantages, compared to alternative fossil fuel sources, are lower prices per energy unit, a stable geopolitical distribution of reserves and a higher reserves-to-production ratio. However, recently, there has been some concern expressed that the latter ratio is not as robust as first thought. This study has therefore examined the national and international, medium- to long-term coal supply prospects, with an emphasis on the need to determine that there will be sufficient proven exploitable reserves to meet the likely demand.
Until the onset of the global recession, these reserves were being used at an increasing pace as global demand continued to rise. This was reflected in the increased rate of coal production to meet internal demand and in the higher prices being achieved in the international market, the latter in part being due to rail and ship infrastructure limitations that were creating bottlenecks and supply constraints. Without such constraints, there would have been an adequate level of overall operational mining capacity, either for internal supply or for export, to meet global needs.
For the future, once the recession has been overcome, the projections are that coal demand in the overall energy mix will return to previous levels. For the period beyond that through to 2030, on the balance of probabilities, a significant upturn in demand is expected. On that basis, it does not appear that current proven supplies will be adequate. Consequently, there will be a need for further proven reserves to be established, together with a very significant increase in coal production, with the likely introduction of additional new national suppliers for the export market.
This will in many cases require new mines to be established together with an expansion of the export market supporting facilities to ensure that coal’s timely transportation to the end users. In addition to significant investment costs and likely coal price rises, this raises strategic implications that will need to be addressed.