One of the reasons why coal use will not fall is that no viable alternative exists today. The only other comparable source in terms of size and technology is nuclear power; but nuclear power is unlikely to be able to replace even a small part of current coal capacity. A nuclear power station is both cost-effective and produces much lower greenhouse gas emissions than any fossil-fuel power plant. There are some major environmental objections to increased nuclear generation but perhaps the largest hindrance to a massive growth in nuclear capacity is the availability of uranium to fuel the plants. While the nuclear fuel industry would almost certainly argue otherwise, it is not clear today that it can support anything more than a modest growth in global capacity (IEA 2006; Breeze 2007a). So, while existing nuclear plants may be replaced in, for example, the USA and the UK, additional plants are unlikely to be built. Elsewhere capacity may grow, but never sufficiently to reduce coal use.
Renewable technologies offer the other major alternative to fossil fuel combustion. Today, however, these technologies are simply not in a position to meet the growing demand for new capacity across the globe. Growth in wind power capacity, perhaps the best option for the medium term, is already showing signs of being constrained by global manufacturing capacity. Solar power is almost certainly the Earth's long-term solution to electricity supply but it will probably be another generation before it can begin to provide the sort of capacity the world needs. Hydropower might be able to provide significantly more output, particularly in Africa where the infrastructure associated with increased hydro capacity can have other major benefits. Biomass, marine technologies, tidal power: all these will have a role to play but none can match coal for cheapness, reliability and gross capacity.
The other important way of constraining growth in coal consumption is by introducing energy efficiency measures. There are simple measures that can lead to major savings but these will mostly take place in the developed world. The growth in the use of coal will mostly take place in the developing world. Inevitably, therefore, coal use will increase.
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