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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Coal - future of an old fuel


Coal is among the very first energy sources used for the production of power. First via steam-powered machines, later via electric power plants.

Chinese were among the first ones to use coal as an energy source, as early as 1000 BC. Interestingly, they are today the first producers and consumers of such energy source today, after 3 thousand years!
Almost 70% of electric energy in China comes from coal, while the figure is much smaller in other countries like USA, and keeps decreasing in basically all European countries.

Major coal producer are China and USA, which (together with Russia) hold also the biggest reserves. There exists however solid Canadian coal companies and also many Indian coal companies.
The importance of such companies for worldwide economy has increased since the increased cost of crude oil, which recently made coal an interesting and viable energy source again.
Moreover, coal reserves and resources are geographically much more distributed than oil reserves, and this makes them critical from a geo-political point of view. Also for this reason, coal reserves and coal companies are finding proper place in the strategy of investment funds and stock markets.

In the meanwhile, because of the recent concert for environmental issues and greenhouse gas reduction, clean coal technologies are being investigated and partly implemented in the coal extraction and burning process.

Readers of this blog are very much aware that moving towards a smart grid, populated by renewable energy sources, also requires traditional energy sources like coal. It is agreed, in the engineering community involved in the transition towards a smart grid, that a mixture of energy sources is the best way to cope with intermittent renewable energy sources, fluctuating demand, and long term investments in green energy. Each energy source has its own particular features, and the only thing that everybody agree now is that, at the moment, there is no energy source (nuclear, fossil, solar, wind, ....) that can be adopted alone.