The world is undergoing one of the greatest and most important energy transitions in history – a shift from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy. We will probably never run out of oil, coal, and natural gas, but each time we extract a million tons of these finite resources, the next million becomes harder and more expensive to get. At some point, it becomes too difficult and expensive to extract more, and so the only question is when?
To answer this question as conservatively as possible, we used reserve estimates from the trade association for each type of fuel. Note that these are economically recoverable reserves, meaning these are known reserves that can be cost competitively drilled or mined. Total reserves of coal, uranium, and gas are higher but the predicted costs of extracting them with existing technologies make these larger resources finally inviable.
- Coal reserves: 150 years (World Coal Association)
- Uranium reserves: 90 years (World Nuclear Association)
- Natural gas: 50 years (International Gas Union Global Gas Report 2020
- Oil: 50 years (British Petroleum Statistical Review of World Energy 2020)
In comparison, solar and wind energy is essentially infinite. There is so much solar energy hitting the earth’s surface that even a single year of sunshine exceeds all known energy reserves of oil, coal, natural gas, and uranium put together (check out: The earth gets more solar energy in one hour than the entire world uses in a year),