How much unmined coal do we have in the USA? In the world? How long will it last? When will the world reach "peak coal", when the supply of coal is no longer sufficient to meet demand, and the production of coal begins to decline?
What is the impact of coal on the environment? on the global climate? on human health? What are the options to using coal? Can "clean coal" solve the environmental problems presented by our present use of coal? What has to be done to ameliorate the damaging aspects of coal and how long will it take to implement any solutions?
Percentage of USA Electricity Produced by Various Energy Sources
Data courtesy of U.S. EIA
Coal-fired electrical power generated in the United States has steadily declined from 46.1% in 2010 to 39% in 2012. However, coal is still the single largest source of electricity, ahead of natural gas (30%) and nuclear (19%).
Coal's importance in the generation of electricity, together with its many environmental drawbacks, make it a highly controversial source of energy. There is little doubt that coal is responsible for much pollution and for the release of substantial amounts of climate-damaging greenhouse gases. On the other hand, at the present time coal is vital to the economic security of the USA.
What are the details of coal's impact on our economy, the environment and the world's climate? Can anything be done to make coal itself less harmful? Are there any better substitutes for coal in the generation of electrical power? If so, how feasible is it to implement them and how long will it take? How much coal does the USA and the rest of the world have? How long will our supplies of coal last? The answers to these questions are central to decisions regarding the future use of coal as a source of energy.