The World Energy System

Summary

The world’s energy system in 2017 was 77% fossil fuelled, and electricity 65% fossil fuelled (2017 is the most recent year of free IEA data, and the only with sufficient detail).

In 2018, the addition of energy of fossil fuels outpaced that from renewables for the third consecutive year, and the increase in generation of electricity from fossil fuels was 9% greater than that from all renewables combined.

This post discusses the topics of energy supply, energy consumption and electricity. To learn about the differences between them, refer to the post About Energy Systems.

World Energy Supply

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

The world energy supply is shown below using BP’s data (solid biofuels are not fully accounted for). Note the recent increase of fossil fuels in 2018. Chart 2 shows this was due to the increase in supply of energy from gas. Coal also recently increased and oil continues to relentlessly increase.

Chart 1. World energy supply, 1990 to 2018. Data: BP(2019).2 Darker bars indicate years 2017 and 2018. Note: (i) BP’s definition of Renewables is energy supplied by Solar, Wind, Geothermal, Solid Biofuels & ‘Other’; (ii) BP does not fully account for biofuels; and (iii) Solid biofuels may not be carbon-neutral.3
Chart 2. World energy supply (TPES), 1990 to 2018, expanded. Data: BP(2019).2 Differently shaded bars indicate years 2017 and 2018. Note: (i) BP’s definition of Renewables is energy supplied by Solar, Wind, Geothermal, Solid Biofuels & ‘Other’; (ii) BP does not fully account for biofuels; and (iii) Solid biofuels may not be carbon-neutral.3

Annual changes of world energy supply for years 2000 to 2018 are shown below in chart 3. Charts 1 and 3 combined show that not only does the total energy supplied by fossil fuels continue to dwarf renewables, but the same holds true for the annual growth of these energy sources (excluding years 2014 and 2015). The same can be said of 2009, the year of the global financial crisis, due to the large rebound in 2010. Note the increasing trend of fossil fuels since 2015.

Chart 3. Annual change of world energy supply, 2000 to 2018. Data: BP(2019).2 Note: (i) BP’s definition of Renewables is energy supplied by Solar, Wind, Geothermal, Solid Biofuels & ‘Other’; and (ii) BP does not fully account for biofuels; and (iii) Solid biofuels may not be carbon-neutral.3

Chart 4 shows the annual percentage change of each energy source. The upper chart shows the rate of change relative to total energy supply for a given year, and the bottom shows the rate of change of each energy supply in isolation (relative to its own previous annual value). Again note the recent rapid increase in the growth of fossil fuels and stalling of the growth of renewables.

Chart 4. Annual rate of change of world energy supply, 1990 to 2018. Data: BP(2019).2 Note: (i) BP’s definition of Renewables is energy supplied by Solar, Wind, Geothermal, Solid Biofuels & ‘Other’; (ii) BP does not fully account for biofuels; and (iii) Solid biofuels may not carbon-neutral.3
Top: Change of quantity of energy from each source relative to total quantity from all sources, for example:
[Hydro (year[n]) – Hydro (year[n-1])] / Total energy supplied by all sources (year[n-1]).
Bottom: Change of quantity of energy from each energy source relative to previous year (i.e. compared with itself rather than total of energy from all sources), for example:
[Hydro (year[n]) – Hydro (year[n-1])] / Hydro (year[n-1]).

Charts 5 and 6 display world energy supply by share, using IEA data which separately lists energy sources.

Chart 5. World energy supply by share in 2017 (the share of marine energy is too small to show). Data: IEA.4
Chart 6. World energy supply by share. Data: IEA.4

Numerical values are shown below.

Table 1. World energy supply. Data: IEA.4

There has been little change over 27 years. The share of fossil fuels reduced from 79.2% in 1990 to 77.4% in 2017, while that of non-hydro renewables grew to 2.9%. Between 2010 and 2017, just the increase of energy supplied by fossil fuels (34.5EJ) was almost double all that supplied by non-hydro renewables in 2017 (18.1EJ).

Energy from biofuels and waste consistently grew to reach 9.1% of world energy, which is a concern. In 2017, 92.4% of energy from biofuels and waste was supplied by solid biofuels5 (the remaining 7.6% was supplied by liquid biofuels, biogases and waste). Of that 92.4%, about half (or 4.6% of world energy) was supplied as dung and wood used for cooking and heating6 by about 2.5 billion people.7 This causes millions of deaths annually, damages health, and inhibits education and development.8 The other half was supplied as wood pellets and wood chips from forests for thermal power stations. The assessment of carbon emissions from this is a mire, distorted by: (i) incorrect carbon-accountancy that assumes solid biofuels are carbon-neutral, (ii) a lack of regulation, and (iii) deceptive marketing by trade associations and biofuel companies (this is explained further in the post Biofuels).

World fossil fuel and cement CO2 emissions are shown below (all sources of CO2 are shown in chart 8 of the post Greenhouse Gas Emissions). There has been no decline in emissions from any fossil fuel. Emissions from coal are roughly constant, emissions from oil continue to linearly rise, and the linear increasing trend of emissions from gas has undergone a step change.

Chart 7.(a) World fossil fuel and cement CO2 emissions, 1959 – 2019. (b) Fossil fuel CO2 emissions (the energy sector), 1959-2019. Data: Global Carbon Project (2019).9 Projected values used for year 2019, taken from the Global Carbon Project’s Budget 2019 presentation.10

Global emissions from fossil fuels and cement are projected to reach a historic high in 2019 of 36.8 GtCO2.9 10

A measure of carbonisation is the carbon intensity of the energy supply, shown below, which is the mass of carbon dioxide emitted per Joule of energy supplied. Carbon intensity in 2015 equalled that in 1995; humanity’s most precious years were wasted.

Chart 8. Carbon intensity of energy supply. Data: IEA.4

The charts above demonstrate that an ever widening chasm exists between business as usual and a safe climate.

World Energy Consumption

Energy consumption, Yingze Bridge, Taiyuan City, China, May 27, 2013.11

As shown in figure 1 above, energy consumption describes energy after conversions. For example, some energy supplied by coal is converted and consumed as electricity, and the rest is instead combusted and consumed in industrial applications (e.g. steel manufacture) and domestic applications (e.g. cooking).

World energy consumption is shown below. Proportions of coal and gas are shown alongside electricity because, as explained above, not all energy from coal and gas is consumed as electricity.

Chart 9. World energy consumption (TFC), year 2017. Data: IEA.4 The dashed segment in the left hand most pie chart represents the equivalent share of electricity if the quantity produced in 2017 was produced within a 100% wind/water/solar (WWS) energy system, serving to demonstrate the remaining change needed for full electrification. The 20.8% in 2017 equates to 48.5% under WWS, as shown. The share of electricity becomes greater because total energy consumption of a 100% WWS system reduces to 42.9% of business-as-usual.12 13 This is due to: (a) using heat pumps for building heat; (b) using electricity for industrial heat; (c) using battery and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles; (d) eliminating mining, transportation and processing of fuels, and (e) efficiency improvements. Also note: (i) Non-energy use of energy sources excluded (e.g. oil used for lubrication); (ii) Transport & Distribution Losses include gas distribution, electricity transmission, and coal transport, and (iii) Examples of Electricity Industry Own-Use include energy consumed in coal mines, own consumption in power plants and energy used for oil and gas extraction.14

In 2017, the most recent year of free IEA data, almost two thirds of world energy was consumed directly as fossil fuels (63.7%).15 The world consumed almost twice as much energy from oil than it did from electricity, and two thirds of electricity (64.5%) was generated by fossil fuels.16 Only 83% of electricity reached the end-user, with 17% of world electricity consumed by transport of fuels for electricity generation (e.g. coal), electricity distribution, and by the electricity industry.

The following two charts below show the world’s energy consumption over time by energy source and by economic sector. Oil clearly dominates chart 10. To 2017 there had not been any non-linear increase in the world’s electricity consumption, despite climate change being an existential crisis. Coal consumption was dictated by China’s industrial coal consumption, shown in China’s energy system profile.

Chart 10. World energy consumption by: (a) Energy source; (b) Economic sector. Data: IEA.4

The following charts show energy consumption in each economic sector, with gridlines removed for clarity.

Chart 11. Energy consumption in economic sectors. Note: The transport sector includes rail and aviation. Data: IEA.4

The share of oil in the transport sector in 2017 was 92%, while electricity increased to reach 1%.

Chart 12 shows electricity generation in detail for 2017, with coal clearly the greatest source. Electricity from wind increased to exceed that from oil, but electricity from oil still exceeded that from solar.

Chart 12. World electricity generation. Data: IEA.4

Less detailed but more recent data is available from BP, and plotted in the charts below. Chart 13 shows shares of electricity generation in 2018.

Chart 13. World electricity generation. Data: BP(2019).2 Note: (i) BP’s definition of Renewables is energy supplied by Solar, Wind, Geothermal and Solid Biofuels; (ii) BP does not fully account for biofuels; and (iii) Solid biofuels may not be carbon-neutral.3

Chart 14 and 15 compare world electricity generation for years 2017 and 2018. Although BP classify hydro separately from renewables, it is of course also renewable.

Chart 14. World electricity generation, years 2017 & 2018. Data: BP(2019).2 Note: (i) BP’s definition of Renewables is energy supplied by Solar, Wind, Geothermal and Solid Biofuels; (ii) BP does not fully account for biofuels; and (iii) Solid biofuels may not be carbon-neutral.3
Chart 15. World electricity generation, years 2017 & 2018. Data: BP(2019).2 Note: (i) BP’s definition of Renewables is energy supplied by Solar, Wind, Geothermal and Solid Biofuels; (ii) BP does not fully account for biofuels; and (iii) Solid biofuels may not be carbon-neutral.3

Chart 16 shows the change of electricity generation between years 2017 and 2018. The increase in fossil fuelled electricity generation was 9% greater than that from hydro and renewables combined (457 / (128 + 291) = 1.09).

Chart 16. Changes in world electricity generation between years 2017 & 2018. Data: BP(2019).2 Note: (i) BP’s definition of Renewables is energy supplied by Solar, Wind, Geothermal and Solid Biofuels; (ii) BP does not fully account for biofuels; and (iii) Solid biofuels may not be carbon-neutral.3

Summary

The carbon intensity of the world’s energy supply in 2015 equaled that in 1995. 20 years was wasted despite international climate negotiations.

In 2017:

  • the world’s energy supply was 77.4% fossil fuelled,
  • 64% of energy was consumed directly as fossil fuels,
  • 20% of energy was consumed as electricity,
  • 65% of electricity was generated by fossil fuels,
  • electricity in the transport sector accounted for 1% and oil 92%, and
  • the rate of energy consumption of oil continued its rapid increase.

In 2018:

  • addition of energy of fossil fuels outpaced that from renewables for the third consecutive year (see chart 3), and
  • the increase in generation of electricity from fossil fuels was 9% greater than that from all renewables combined.
  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/13/climate/cafe-emissions-rollback-oil-industry.html()
  2. https://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/energy-economics/statistical-review-of-world-energy.html()()()()()()()()
  3. https://www.worldenergydata.org/biofuels/()()()()()()()()
  4. https://www.iea.org/statistics/()()()()()()()()
  5. Using IEA’s 2017 biofuels and waste figures from the Renewables and Waste balances table at https://www.iea.org/statistics/, Domestic Supply row for year 2017: % = Primary_Solid_Biofuels / (Municipal_Waste + Industrial_Waste + Primary_Solid_Biofuels + Biogases + Liquid_Biofuels) ()
  6. https://www.iea.org/topics/renewables/bioenergy()
  7. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=AQMi_IO5N84C&lpg=PA34&dq=physical%20energy%20content%20method&pg=PA33#v=onepage&q&f=false()
  8. http://indiaclimatedialogue.net/2014/07/17/millions-die-indians-still-cook-wood-dung/()
  9. Global Carbon Project. (2019). Supplemental data of Global Carbon Budget 2019 (Version 1.0) [Data set]. Global Carbon Project, https://www.icos-cp.eu/GCP/2019, download labelled ‘2019 Global Budget v1.0’.()()
  10. https://www.globalcarbonproject.org/carbonbudget/19/files/GCP_CarbonBudget_2019.pdf()()
  11. https://abcnews.go.com/International/photos/photos-pollution-china-19628137/image-19628281()
  12. https://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/TimelineDetailed.pdf()
  13. https://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/CombiningRenew/WorldGridIntegration.pdf()
  14. https://www.iea.org/statistics/resources/balancedefinitions/()
  15. 14.9% + 37.8% + 11% = 63.7%()
  16. 38.3% + 3.3% + 22.9% = 64.5%()