Graph time: coal consumption in the world

All right, let’s stop talking about feelings for a second and put up some lovely graphs and numbers. I want to talk a little bit about the scale of China’s coal usage in the world. That’s right, Stimulated Emissions goes quantitative. The following post is kind of like me taking notes on the internet, so I apologize for the lack of formality.  Perhaps you will enjoy learning together with me.


Coal consumption is growing in China and at a rate much higher than other nations.  Not so obvious from the graph is that coal consumption has increased between 2009 and now in each of these major countries except the US and Australia.

The average rate of growth/decrease of coal consumption for each of these nations is as follows:
China: 260 million tonnes/year
USA: -28 million tonnes/year
EU: 21 million tonnes/year
India: 53 million tonnes/year
Russia: 4.1 million tonnes/year
Japan: 6.3 million tonnes/year
South Africa: 4.2 million tonnes/year
Australia: -3.6 million tonnes/year
Turkey: 5.1 million tonnes/year
South Korea: 8 million tonnes/year

You can get on my sig figs as necessary.


China’s projected coal consumption in 2013, at 4167 million tonnes, will be more than FIFTY PERCENT of global coal consumption.

Rate of coal consumption growth in the entire world: 360 million tonnes/year

Crazy shit! That means that China’s rate of coal growth is more than 2/3 of the world’s rate of consumption growth (260/360 ~ 0.7).

The article from which I pulled these numbers focuses on how the rate of coal consumption growth in China will affect the US coal industry. In short, the US has got shit tons o’ coal, but we’re using less and we need to sell it. Some people think that the only hope for U.S. coal is to increase exports, particularly to China–but there’s reason to believe that China’s coal consumption is not going to keep increasing at the same rate because of an economic slowdown, in part due to financial troubles in Europe. More about this later if I can find it.

Some questions I have:

1) How does the Energy Information Administration make these estimates of coal consumption? What is the margin of error in these numbers?
2) The Chinese government makes projections of economic growth: what exactly does that mean? Do they change what they subsidize, or is this purely an extrapolation of the economy of the status quo?

Thanks to Savannah “You love me” Sullivan for sharing this article with me, from which most of the information in this blog post comes.

Look forward to some bilingual posts as I struggle to talk about this environmental stuff in Chinese.


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