Coal train

Hot on the heels of the Woolsey speech comes this story from the WaPo about global coal supplies. With the usual increase in energy demand from developed nations and accelerated increases in demand in China and India, the price of coal is rising. China, one of the world’s largest coal producers, was so strapped for coal that the country stopped all exports until recently. China’s woes are in part due to limited transport infrastructure, but goods are worthless if you can’t move them from producer to consumer.

I find that skepticism is the best approach to stories about economics (among other topics) published in the general media. There doesn’t seem to be anything sensational in this story though. The Age reports the same for Australian coal producers, whose production is being pushed by global demand for steel. Indian coal production can’t keep up with demand and the country is a net importer, with forecasts of rising imports needed to cover demand.

So while, US coal production continues to rise, global demand is rising yet faster. Leaning harder on our electric grid is going to require some combination of stunning advances in alternative energy technology, infrastructural improvements, more expensive coal, and additional nuclear power plants. Even if the public could embrace nuclear power, it could still take a while to increase our capacity. Maybe a very long time.