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Fossil Fuels Dominate Global Energy Consumption

Linda Hardesty

Energy Manage Coal PlantCoal, natural gas, and oil accounted for 87 percent of global primary energy consumption in 2012, as the growth of worldwide energy use continued to slow due to the economic downturn, according to the Worldwatch Institute.

The relative weight of these energy sources keeps shifting, although only slightly. Natural gas increased its share of energy consumption from 23.8 to 23.9 percent during 2012; coal rose from 29.7 to 29.9 percent; and oil fell from 33.4 to 33.1 percent. The International Energy Agency predicts that by 2017, coal will replace oil as the dominant primary energy source worldwide.

The shale revolution in the US is reshaping global oil and gas markets. The US produced oil at record levels in 2012 and is expected to overtake Russia as the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas combined in 2013. Consequently, the US is importing decreasing amounts of these two fossil fuels, while using rising levels of domestic natural gas for power generation. This has led to price discrepancies between the US and European natural gas markets that in turn have prompted Europeans to increase their use of coal power. Coal consumption, however, was dominated by China, which in 2012 for the first time accounted for more than half of the world’s coal use.

Global natural gas production grew by 1.9 percent in 2012, dominated by the US (with 20.4 percent of the total) and Russia (17.6 percent). Other countries accounted for less than 5 percent each of global output.

In 2012, coal remained the fastest-growing fossil fuel globally, although at 2.5 percent the increase in consumption was weak relative to the 4.4 percent average of the last decade. China increased its coal use by 6.1 percent, and India by a significant 9.9 percent in 2012. Coal use by members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) declined by 4.2 percent, as an 11.9 percent decline in US consumption outweighed increases of 3.4 percent in the EU and 5.4 percent in Japan.

Oil remains the most widely consumed fuel worldwide, but at a growth rate of 0.9 percent it is being outpaced by gas and coal for the third consecutive year. The OECD’s share declined to 50.2 percent of global consumption-the smallest share on record and the sixth decrease in seven years. This reflects declines of 2.3 percent in US consumption and 4.6 percent in EU consumption. By contrast, usage in China and Japan rose by 5.0 and 6.3 percent, respectively.

Conversely, global oil production grew by more than twice as much as consumption-2.2 percent, or 100.1 million tons, in 2012. This was due mainly to a rise in US output of 13.9 percent, the highest rate ever. In comparison, Canada, China, and the former Soviet Union saw relatively small increases of 6.8, 2.0, and 0.4 percent, respectively.

Photo: Coal Power Plant via Shutterstock



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