Fossil fuels are here to stay

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Keeping up with energy news these days is exciting: there are so many new batteries, more efficient solar panels, cheaper wind power, and dozens of electric vehicle models hitting a market near you each day. day. The future looks bright, emissions-free and electric. All it takes to ruin the vision is one report, in this case from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Titled Main world energy statistics 2020, the report provides an in-depth look at trends in energy production and consumption over a period between the early 1970s and 2018. And the data shows that we are still heavily dependent on oil and gas. , despite all the progress made by renewable energies. In fact, the share of oil and gas in the global energy mix is ​​so massive that we are unlikely to ever be without fossil fuels.

Let’s take a look at consumption, for example. Crude oil accounted for 48.2% of final energy consumption in the world in 1973. Forty-five years and huge progress in renewable energy later, the share of crude oil in total consumption of final energy had dropped a paltry 8.6 percentage points to 40.8%.

That’s not much, although we do recognize that the drive to cut emissions started much later than the early 1970s, so renewables have had less than 45 years to claim their right as an alternative to fossil fuels. . Speaking of which, the share of coal in the mix only declined by 3.6 percentage points over the 45-year period, to 10% of the total in 2018.

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At the same time, the share of electricity in this mix, thanks to renewables, rose from 9.4% to 19.3%, which is certainly an impressive growth, especially given the aforementioned uneven start. But is it enough?

Let’s look at the total energy supply. In 1973, crude oil represented 46.2 percent of the world’s energy supply. Gas accounted for 16 percent and coal 24.5 percent. A category called “Other” (excluding hydropower, biofuels, biomass and nuclear) accounted for 0.1 percent.

Fast forward 45 years, and we have crude oil which accounts for 31.6% of the total energy supply, gas 22.8% and coal, surprisingly, which is 26.9%. Meanwhile, the “Other” category has grown to 2% of the total. But the same is true for the total energy supply, and not by a small percentage either. Between 1973 and 2018, the world’s energy supply grew from 6,089 million tonnes of oil to over 14 billion tonnes of oil equivalent as the world’s population grew and became richer, increasing the demand for energy. .

So it is hardly a surprise that emissions have increased, although the distribution of “responsibility” among the three fossil fuels has changed. In 1973, petroleum was the largest emitter, accounting for 49.9% of the total, gas accounting for 14.4% and coal 35.7%. In 2018, probably thanks to energy efficiency and the growing share of gas in electricity generation, among others, the share of oil in total emissions fell to 43.1%. During this time, however, the share of coal increased by 44 percent and the share of gas increased to 21.1 percent. What this suggests is what we already know: Fossil fuels are cheap, which is why they are often preferred not only in regions that cannot afford to invest in wind and wind power. solar energy, but also with the world’s largest investor in renewable energies, China, as well as in most other countries. And while solar and wind are getting cheaper, their reliability remains a problem, which has only recently started to receive the attention it deserves in the form of a focus not only on the ability to production, but also on storage.

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Speaking of wind and solar generating capacity, this has seen impressive growth, no more than 45 years but a lot less years. Between 2005 and 2018, wind power production increased from 104 terawatt-hours to 1,273 terawatt-hours. Equally impressive growth in solar power generation has grown from just 4 TWh in 2005 to 554 TWh in 2018.

Based on this data spanning more than four decades, the IEA perspective For the next two decades, oil and gas are also present, and largely present them, in both what he calls the declared policies scenario and the sustainable development scenario. In fact, in both scenarios, oil and gas together will continue to represent more energy supply than renewables, even in 2040. The only marked difference is that in the sustainable development scenario, the share of oil in the mix will decrease by around one million tonnes of oil equivalent between 2030 and 2040.

What does all this tell us? A lot of things that could be interpreted according to his personal opinions as facts tend to be. Yet the interpretation does not change these facts, and the facts exposed by the IEA show that the world is still heavily dependent on oil and gas – and even coal – for its continued energy supply. The world of 100% renewable energy is still decades away, and more than two.

By Irina Slav for OilUSD

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