. . . While Coal Still Leads World Energy Growth

By Editors

Gail Tverberg had a big week with major essays on both OilPrice and The Energy Collective. Her OilPrice essay, “Why Natural Gas Won’t Save the World,” argues that shale gas wells may turn out to have a short life and that the problems of employing natural gas in transport nay limit its growth.  Meanwhile, other fuels will continue to play a big role in our energy budget. In other words, natural gas isn’t going to solve everything.

As an illustration, she presents the above graph tracking the increase in the major forms of energy from 2006 to 2011. The change is measured not in terms of percentage but absolute numbers.  The vertical axis represents the five-year change in millions of metric tons of oil equivalent while the horizontal axis breaks world energy consumption by the various source.

Despite all the efforts to limit coal burning in the US, coal consumption has increased the most on a world level, up nearly 600 million tons. Natural gas is second at 350 million tons. Oil and biofuels (lumped together), hydroelectricity and other renewables (mostly wind and solar) are all at about 100 million tons. The big surprise is nuclear energy, which has actually declined by about 20 million tons oil equivalent. This is probably due to the Fukushima accident and the resulting decisions by several countries to take nuclear reactors off line.

The bar graph could suggest that coal will remain the fuel of the future.  But this may be changing. The US is making a deliberate effort to shut down older coal plants and even China seems to be scaling back the pace of development.  Offsetting this, however, may be the cutbacks in nuclear, which are causing Germany and others to increase coal consumption. In the next five years, natural gas could surpass coal in growth. Oil will probably remain fairly stable, nuclear may recover and renewable energy sources will continue to grow. For now, though, Tverberg is probably correct – natural gas isn’t going to replace everything.

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