[Excerpt]: For weeks South Africa has suffered rolling blackouts caused in part by a shortage of coal. Gripped by unusually bitter snowstorms, China recently banned coal exports for the next two months. And at Newcastle in Australia, the world’s largest coal export terminal in the world’s largest coal exporting country, the queue of bulk carriers waiting to load has been known to stretch almost to Sydney – 150km to the south.

Coal, so long the Cinderella of fossil fuels, is not just in demand but in desperately short supply. The world’s biggest producers and exporters are struggling, and the price of imports to Europe has doubled to almost $140 per tonne over the past year. “It’s a global crunch”, says John Howland, managing editor of McCloskey’s Coal Report…