Chinese coal demand will kill us all, maybe

Interesting stuff on China’s coal demand and GDP growth in this article in Energy Policy. Especially interesting are the implications regarding the trustworthiness of the reports and predictions of the large energy institutions of the world. But first, to quote from the abstract:

[T]his paper demonstrates that even with conservative assumptions about Chinese GDP growth and income elasticity of electric demand to 2025, the country will likely experience much higher coal demand and emit much greater volumes of carbon dioxide than forecast by various international energy agencies.

It has a nice slapdown of the International Energy Agency, proving with a few charts that they consistently under-report energy demand for developing countries and are constantly adjusting their forecasts upwards because they refuse to take new numbers into account.

The article also has an interesting discussion of whether or not China misreport their statistics. One is left to wonder where else this could be going on. Oh, Saudi Arabia has been lying about their oil reserves since the 70s (they haven’t changed their projections by a single barrel since 1982, yet have pumped up some 115.000 million barrels of oil since then[1]), we know that, but how much can we trust the US Department of Energy numbers? Or the Norwegian numbers? Of course, they often include the various caveats in their reports, but they are happy to let the projections be reported in the media as absolute truths.

Also, there is a good discussion of the factors that might possibly slow the increase in demand which reminds us of the very physical conditions underlying the somewhat intangible product that is electricity. For example, while use of coal for electricity production has increased from 25% of production to 50%, despite the construction of the Three Gorges dam, this increase might be hampered by the increasing troubles of the Chinese railway system:

China’s railroad cars and tracks are already over-burdened, and a competition for limited rail car capacity has developed among coal, iron ore, steel, grains, and many other commodities, including oil products. The increase in coal transport by rail is outpacing rail track expansion in China, displacing other freight,
and accelerating a shift to less efficient transport by road

But the main point of the article is that the increase in coal use will cause a large increase in carbon emissions. China passed the US in absolute carbon emissions in 2006, but it might increase to double that of the US by 2025 if the increased demand is met. One of the problems, apart from the fact that we will all drown or starve to death when the Climapocolypse comes, is that the leading agencies for energy and climate data keep misreporting or simply omitting these considerations.

PS: In other news, quantum leaps (in the scientific meaning of that expression) are made within quantum computing. Soon, we will be able to shake our heads in wonder at the fantastically weak computers we now use. Soon…

[1] Calculated sloppily from Wikipedia information.

Shealy, M., & Dorian, J. (2009). Growing Chinese coal use: Dramatic resource and environmental implications Energy Policy DOI: 10.1016/j.enpol.2009.06.051


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