Petroleum refinery in Detroit.1 Most of civilisation’s energy is supplied by oil.

This page profiles the world’s energy supply using freely available data from the IEA2 and the method described in Intro Part 4. The term ‘Energy supply’ used here is conventionally known as ‘total primary energy supply’ (TPES), shown in figure 1 of Intro Part 4.

World energy supply (TPES) is shown in Chart 1, for years 1990 to 2016 (the entire period for which IEA data is freely available). Chart 2 shows the same data in stacked form. The y-axis of these charts is scaled using units of peta-Joules (PJ) (for more info see table 1 in Intro Part 4). The order of the legend doesn’t match that of the series in chart 1 but simply follows an arbitrary standard that is maintained throughout this site.

Chart 1. World energy supply (TPES) 1990 – 2016.

Note the increasing trends of coal, oil and gas, that nuclear has remained roughly constant and the share of supply of energy from renewables is still relatively small. Also note that while coal’s supply declined between 2014 and 2016, BP’s more recent dataset shows that this increased in 2017 back to 2015 levels. The dominance of energy supply from fossil fuels continues unabated, eclipsing that from hydro, nuclear and non-hydro renewables. 

Chart 2. World energy supply (TPES) 1990 – 2016, stacked.

The quantities shown for each non-combustible energy supply are those that would be demanded of thermal (fossil fuel) generation should it be used to supply an equivalent quantity of energy. This is the concept of the substitution method explained in Intro Part 4.

There are causes for concern about energy from biofuels and waste. In 2016, 93% of energy from biofuels and waste was supplied by solid biofuels.3 The remaining 7% was supplied by liquid biofuels, biogases and the combustion of waste. Of the 93% solid biofuels, just over half in 2015 was supplied as dung and wood used for cooking and heating4 by about 2.5 billion people.5 This causes millions of deaths annually, damages health, and inhibits education and development.6 The other half of solid biofuel supply was wood pellets and wood chips from forests for thermal power stations. The carbon accounting of this assumes carbon neutrality, but various references highlight this is not the case and a question of sustainability hangs over the industry.7 8 9 10 This topic is explained further in the post About energy from biofuels.

Chart 3 below shows the world energy supply by share over the period 1990 to 2016, and Chart 4 shows 2016.

Chart 3. World energy supply (TPES) 1990 – 2016, by share.
Chart 4. World energy supply (TPES) by share in 2016.

Values for each energy supply during the most recent 5 year period of the data are shown in table 1 below. Generally this shows that while non-hydro energy supplies increased, their absolute quantities in 2016 were relatively tiny.

Table 1. Energy supply (TPES) for 2012 and 2016.

Table 1(a) shows that the absolute quantity of energy from non-hydro renewables grew by similar amounts (10,454 PJ and 7,211 PJ), but as shown in table (b), the relative share of non-hydro renewables is negligible (fossil fuels = 77.5% and non-hydro renewables = 2.5%). Rapid increasing rates of change of small energy supplies are often reported as ‘booms’, while low increasing rates of change of large energy supplies are less frequently reported. This is often done by discussing a particular form of energy supply in isolation from the context of the complete energy system.

Table (b) also shows very little change in share of each energy supply, with the only notable being coal’s share reducing by 2.1%. Consequently there was little change in the share of fossil fuels, reducing from 79.2% to 77.5%. Table (c) shows the cumulative amounts of energy supplied over the 5 years and is used to calculate tables (d) and (e). Table (d) shows that fossil fuels supplied 78% of the cumulative energy during 2011–2016, while non-hydro renewables supplied only 2%. Table (e) shows that biofuels and waste supplied an amount equivalent to 12% of the cumulative energy supplied by fossil fuels, hydro 8% and so on. Non-hydro renewables supplied an amount equivalent to 2.5% of that from fossil fuels, or in other words fossil fuels supplied 40 times the energy from non-hydro renewables (i.e. 100/2.5).

Table 2 below shows data for years 1990 and 2016 (the start and end of this website’s data set) –

Table 2. Energy supply (TPES) for 1990 and 2016.

A measure of decarbonisation is the carbon intensity of total primary energy supply, which is a measure of the quantity of carbon emitted for every Joule of energy supplied. Chart 5 shows there hasn’t been any significant decarbonisation of the world’s energy supply post 1990 – the curve is flat.

Chart 5. Carbon intensity of world energy supply (TPES), 1990 – 2016.

The data above placed into the context of Intro Part 3 demonstrates that the trends of world energy are grim. Optimism about decarbonisation is absurd because winning slowly is losing,11 especially this slowly.

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/13/climate/cafe-emissions-rollback-oil-industry.html
  2. https://www.iea.org/statistics/
  3. Using IEA’s 2016 biofuels and waste figures from the Renewables and Waste balances table at https://www.iea.org/statistics/, Supply row: 49,151,961 / (49,151,961 + 1,431,677 + 1,032,980 + 1,312,646 + 110,747) = 93%.
  4. https://www.iea.org/topics/renewables/bioenergy
  5. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=AQMi_IO5N84C&lpg=PA34&dq=physical%20energy%20content%20method&pg=PA33#v=onepage&q&f=false
  6. http://indiaclimatedialogue.net/2014/07/17/millions-die-indians-still-cook-wood-dung/
  7. https://www.carbonbrief.org/biomass-subsidies-not-fit-for-purpose-chatham-house
  8. https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2011/08/18/is-biomass-really-renewable/
  9. http://www.energyjustice.net/files/biomass/90scientistsletter.pdf
  10. Fargione, Joseph, Jason Hill, David Tilman, Stephen Polasky, and Peter Hawthorne. “Land clearing and the biofuel carbon debt.” Science 319, no. 5867 (2008): 1235-1238.
  11. https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/bill-mckibben-winning-slowly-is-the-same-as-losing-198205/