In this chapter I want us to take a closer look at the current energy trends. I want us to take a closer look at the current dynamics in the energy markets because to see eventually how we can decarbonize the energy systems, we first need to really well understand what is going on today and how we can reverse the current trends.
So where are we?
I am using the unit of billion tons of oil equivalent to be able to measure within a single unit all the different sources of primary energy I mentioned in the previous chapter.
By the way, exactly in the same way, we used the unit of CO2 equivalent to measure with a single unit all sources of greenhouse gases.
As you can see on the pie charts, oil is the biggest source of primary energy, 32%. Even before coal, which represents 27% of the primary energy and gas with 21% of the total. So fossil fuels really are and by far, the major sources of primary energy today. And this is precisely where the problem lies.
Final energy is primarily consumed through oil, again. This time for a 41% of the total. Then electricity for 18%, then gas, 15%, and coal for 10%.
But let’s look in further detail in which sectors and for which purposes the different sources of energy are used, because there are some important differences across the different sectors. As you can see on these other pie charts, coal as a primary source of energy is mainly used in the industry sector, 80%.
Some of the most energy intensive industries include cement, steel, or the mining sector for example.
Oil for its part is mainly used in the transport sector, 60% of the total energy consumption of the transport sector. Oil is used in particular in different forms, but in the internal combustion engine of private vehicles and trucks, but is also used for air transport and ocean shipping. Gas a fuel is mainly used in the residential and commercial building sector, most importantly for heating purposes.
That’s 46% of the total. But also gas is used in industry, for 35% of the total. And finally, electricity is used primarily in the residential and commercial building sector for 57%, to provide lighting for example, or electric heating or to power all different sorts of electrical equipment. But it is also used, electricity is also used in industry.
An example of industry that is very electricity-intensive, that consumes a lot of electricity per unit of output is the aluminum industry. In the recent past and in spite of the repeated commitments to reduce greenhouse gases emissions that we discussed in the previous lectures, the energy consumption and the CO2 energy emissions have continued to rise. And in fact, they have continued to rise very sharply.
The CO2 energy emissions increased by 10% during the 1990 to 2000 period. And they even increased by 30% during the last ten years from the year 2000 to 2010. And as you can see on the graph, the rise in CO2 energy emissions was especially strong in China.
Also in India. Although the Indians’ emissions are of course still much lower than the Chinese emissions. In the U.S. the emissions increased from 1990 to 2000, but they decreased from 2000 to 2010, in part due to a shift from coal to gas in the power supply. In the European Union the emissions fell steadily from 1990 to 2010 due in part to the implementation of climate change mitigation policies but also and a bit more unfortunately, more recently as a result of the economic crisis.
And the emissions as you can see on the graph fell very sharply in Russia from 1990 to 2000, mostly as a result of the collapse uh, of the Soviet Union, that the emissions are more or less flat in Russia since the year 2000. If the growth in CO2 energy emissions during the 2000-2010 period was so fast, it’s because energy demand rose very quickly in this period, mainly due to the rapid economic catch-up growth in some of the world emerging countries.
But it’s not the entire story. The CO2 energy emissions rose very quickly, also because the carbon content of energy consumption increased which is a very bad news from a climate change mitigation perspective.
In fact, almost half of the incremental energy consumption in the last ten years during the 2000 to 2010 period came from coal as you can see on the graph. This is absolutely gigantic and even more than during the previous decades.
So instead of decarbonizing our energy systems, we are currently carbonizing them. The current energy trends are therefore completely out of line with the objective of avoiding dangerous climate change.
In fact, they lead straight to catastrophic climate change because they would induce a rise in the mean surface temperature by 4-degrees Celsius or perhaps even 6-degree Celsius.
So the current trend is a trend of very rapidly rising energy consumption and increasing CO2 content of energy when we should instead be further de-coupling energy consumption growth from GDP growth and decreasing the carbon content of energy by relying much more heavily on the low or even zero carbon sources of energy.
In the next chapter we’re going to see how this can be achieved.