The World Energy System

Preface

This site uses data from the IEA1 and BP.2 Although the latest year of data from BP is more recent than that from the IEA (2018 vs 2016 respectively), BP’s data doesn’t fully account for biofuels, and incorrectly categorises energy from solid biofuels as renewable,3 so some charts here are of IEA data.

An energy system is conventionally represented by the figure below –

Figure 1. Representation of an energy system.

It’s convention to use the term ‘total primary energy supply’ (TPES) to describe, or account for energy in its primary form prior to any conversions such as coal to electricity, whereas energy in forms purchased and used by the consumer is accounted for separately as ‘total final consumption’ (TFC). For simplicity this website uses the terms ‘energy supply’ and ‘energy consumption’ respectively.

To account for energy supplied by non-combustible sources, such as renewables which have natural forms of primary energy (sun, wind etc), it’s convention to calculate for each the equivalent quantity of energy that would be required to be input to a thermal power station of average efficiency. In other words, an equivalent amount of primary energy is determined for non-combustible sources, allowing the primary energy supplied by all sources to be relatively compared. This is explained further in About Energy Systems.

World Energy Supply

Petroleum refinery in Detroit.4 Most of civilisation’s energy is supplied by oil.

The world’s energy supply is shown in chart 1 for years 1990 to 2016 using IEA data, and in expanded form in chart 2 –

Chart 1. World energy supply (TPES), 1990 – 2016. Data: IEA.1 5 ‘Non-Hydro Renewables’ is energy supplied by Solar, Wind, Geothermal and Marine.
Chart 2. World energy supply (TPES), 1990 – 2016, expanded. Data: IEA.1 5 ‘Non-Hydro Renewables’ is energy supplied by Solar, Wind, Geothermal and Marine.

The world energy supply is shown below using BP’s data (recall that biofuels are not accounted for). Note the recent increase of fossil fuels in 2018. Chart 4 shows this was due to the increase in supply of energy from gas. Coal recently increased and oil continues to relentlessly increase.

Chart 3. World energy supply (TPES), 1990 – 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 4. World energy supply (TPES), 1990 – 2018, expanded. 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

Annual changes of world energy supply for years 2000 to 2018 are shown below in chart 5. Charts 3 and 5 together show that 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 5. Annual change of world energy supply (TPES), 2000 – 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 6 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 6. Annual rate of change of world energy supply (TPES), 1990-2018. 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 are not renewable.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]).

Numerical values of the world’s energy supply for recent years is shown below, calculated using IEA data (BP data is unsuitable for this level of detail).

Table 1. World energy supply (TPES), 2012 – 2016. Data: IEA.1

Non-hydro renewables grew very rapidly (22%/yr) but was dwarfed by fossil fuels that also grew. Just the increase of energy supplied by fossil fuels (10.5EJ) was two thirds of all that supplied by non-hydro renewables in 2016 (15.3EJ).

Energy from biofuels and waste consistently grew which is a concern. In 2016, 93% of energy from biofuels and waste was supplied by solid biofuels6 (the remaining 7% was supplied by liquid biofuels, biogases and waste). Of that 93%, about half in 2015 was supplied as dung and wood used for cooking and heating7 by about 2.5 billion people.8 This causes millions of deaths annually, damages health, and inhibits education and development.9 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 titled Biofuels.

Charts 7 and 8 display world energy supply by share –

Chart 7. World energy supply (TPES) by share in 2016. Data: IEA.1
Chart 8. World energy supply (TPES) 1990 – 2016, by share. Data: IEA.1

Numerical values are shown below for 1990, 2012 and 2016 –

Table 2. World energy supply (TPES) by share. Data: IEA.1

There was little change over 26 years. The share of fossil fuels reduced from 79.1% to 77.5%, while that of non-hydro renewables grew to 2.5%.

A measure of carbonisation is the carbon intensity of total primary energy supply, as shown in chart 9, which is the mass of carbon dioxide emitted per Joule of energy supplied. Chart 9 shows there was no significant decarbonisation of the world’s energy supply between 1990 and 2016; the curve is practically flat.

Chart 9. Carbon intensity of world energy supply (TPES), 1990 – 2016. Data: IEA.1

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

World Energy Consumption

Energy consumption, Yingze Bridge, Taiyuan City, China, May 27, 2013.10

As shown in the figure 1 above, energy consumption describes energy after conversions, in forms and quantities of energy consumed. 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 in chart 10 shows that in 2016, the most recent year for which IEA data is available, almost two thirds of world energy was consumed directly as fossil fuels (63.5%). The world consumed almost twice as much energy from oil than it did from electricity, and two thirds of electricity (65%) was generated by fossil fuels. In 2016 as much electricity was generated from oil as wind. 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.

Chart 10. World energy consumption (TFC), year 2016. Data: IEA.1 The dashed segment in the left hand most pie chart represents the equivalent share of electricity if the quantity produced in 2016 was produced within a 100% wind/water/solar (WWS) energy system, serving to demonstrate the remaining change needed for full electrification. The 20.7% in 2016 equates to 48.2% 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.11 12 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.13

Proportions of coal and gas in chart 10 are shown alongside electricity because, as explained above, not all energy from coal and gas is consumed as electricity.

Chart 11 shows world energy consumption between years 1990 and 2016. Oil clearly dominated, and increased linearly along with electricity, gas and biofuels. Up to 2016, 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 chart 12 of China’s energy system profile.

Chart 11. World energy consumption (TFC), 1990 – 2016. Data: IEA.1 Non-energy use of energy sources excluded (e.g. oil used for lubrication).

The following charts show energy consumption by economic sector. Chart 12 shows the energy consumption of the industrial sector, again dictated by consumption of coal by China’s industry –

Chart 12, Industry. Energy consumption (TFC) of world industrial sector. Data: IEA.1

Energy consumption of the transport sector is shown in chart 13. Oil’s share in 2016 was 92%, while electricity slowly increased to reach 1%. The magnitude and increasing rate of oil consumption eclipsed that of all other energy sources.

Chart 13, Transport. Energy consumption (TFC) of world transport sector. Data: IEA.1 Note: this includes rail and aviation.

Chart 14 shows the same data excluding oil, revealing the slow increase of electricity –

Chart 14, Transport excluding oil. Energy consumption (TFC) of world transport sector excluding oil. Data: IEA.1 Note: this includes rail and aviation.

Lastly, energy consumption of all other sectors is shown below. Note the consistent linear increase of share and quantity of electricity consumption, plausibly by the residential and commercial sectors.

Chart 15, All other sectors. Energy consumption (TFC) of world commercial, residential, agriculture and fishing sectors combined. Data: IEA.1

Chart 16 shows electricity generation over time. Coal clearly dominated. Electricity from wind increased to equal that from oil, and the share of solar electricity was low.

Chart 16. World electricity generation, 1990 – 2016. Data: IEA.1

More recent electricity data is available from BP, plotted in the charts below. Chart 17 and 18 show world electricity generation for years 2017 and 2018. Although hydro is shown separately from renewables, it is of course also renewable.

Chart 17. 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 18. 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 19 shows the changes 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.14

Chart 19. 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

In summary: (i) in 2016, 64% of world energy consumption was consumed directly as fossil fuels with only 20% consumed as electricity, of which 65% was generated by fossil fuels; (ii) in 2018, the increase in generation of electricity from fossil fuels was 9% greater than that of all renewables combined; (iii) almost 20% of electricity was lost, or consumed by the electricity industry; and (iv) electricity in the transport sector in 2016 accounted for 1% and oil 92%, and the rate of energy consumption of oil increased rapidly.

  1. https://www.iea.org/statistics/()()()()()()()()()()()()()()()
  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.nytimes.com/2018/12/13/climate/cafe-emissions-rollback-oil-industry.html()
  5. Chart format copied from Global Carbon Project, Global Carbon Budget 2018, slide 30, http://folk.uio.no/roberan/GCB2018.shtml()()
  6. Using IEA’s 2016 biofuels and waste figures from the Renewables and Waste balances table at https://www.iea.org/statistics/, Domestic Supply row: 49,151,961 / (49,151,961 + 1,431,677 + 1,032,980 + 1,312,646 + 110,747) = 93%.()
  7. https://www.iea.org/topics/renewables/bioenergy()
  8. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=AQMi_IO5N84C&lpg=PA34&dq=physical%20energy%20content%20method&pg=PA33#v=onepage&q&f=false()
  9. http://indiaclimatedialogue.net/2014/07/17/millions-die-indians-still-cook-wood-dung/()
  10. https://abcnews.go.com/International/photos/photos-pollution-china-19628137/image-19628281()
  11. https://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/TimelineDetailed.pdf()
  12. https://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/CombiningRenew/WorldGridIntegration.pdf()
  13. https://www.iea.org/statistics/resources/balancedefinitions/()
  14. 457 / (128 + 291) = 1.09()