Despite the advance of renewable energies on a global scale, the strong demand for electricity generation in 2018, which continues to be covered fundamentally by fossil technologies, boosted energy-related CO2 emissions by 1.7% last year. The main cause of this rise is coal, which, although it has lost weight in favour of gas, continues to be the main source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world.
Global energy demand increased by 2.3% in 2018, its fastest pace in a decade, according to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) assessment of global energy consumption and related CO2 emissions. The report includes the latest available data on oil, natural gas, coal, wind and solar, nuclear, electricity and energy efficiency.
China, the United States and India, the most energy-hungry
The increase in energy demand in 2018 is due, according to the IEA, to a stronger world economy and stronger heating and cooling needs as average winter and summer temperatures in some regions of the globe approached or surpassed historical records. Cold spells boosted demand for heating and, more importantly, higher summer temperatures boosted demand for cooling.
Natural gas emerged as the preferred fuel, registering the largest increases and accounting for 45% of the increase in total energy consumption. Gas growth, driven largely by coal substitution, was particularly strong in the United States and China. In the first country, demand grew by 10 per cent over the previous year, the fastest increase since the start of the 1971 records. In China, it grew by almost 18 per cent.
These two countries, together with India, accounted for almost 70 per cent of the increase in energy demand worldwide. In the United States, oil demand also grew – by 1.3 per cent, which had not been the case for 20 years – owing to a strong expansion of petrochemicals, increased industrial production and road transport services.
Coal consumption increased by 0.7 per cent and focused on Asia, especially China and India. As a result, global energy-related CO2 emissions increased by 1.7%, reaching a record level: 33,143 million tonnes of CO2 emitted, of which 28.6% was from China (+2.5% compared to 2017), 14.75% from the United States (+3.1%) and 6.94% from India (+4.8%). Europe, on the other hand, reduced them by 1.3%.
The use of coal in electricity generation alone exceeded 10 gigatonnes, representing one third of the total increase. Most of the emissions were emitted by a young fleet of coal-fired power plants in developing Asia, where new plants are located, averaging 12 years old, decades below the average life of about 50 years. The IEA estimates that coal has been responsible for an increase in global average temperature of between 0.3 and 1 degree Celsius from pre-industrial levels.
With regard to nuclear power, the report indicates that this technology accounted for 9% of total world energy demand. This means that its use grew by 3.3% in 2018, with a global generation that reached pre-Fukushima levels, mainly as a result of new plants commissioned in China and the restart of four reactors in Japan.
More renewables and improved energy efficiency needed
The IEA report also makes it clear that electricity continues to position itself as the “fuel” of the future, with global demand growing by 4% in 2018 to over 23,000 TWh. This rapid growth is pushing electricity towards a 20% share of total final energy consumption.
Renewables were one of the main contributors to this expansion of electricity generation, accounting for almost half of the growth in electricity demand. Solar alone grew 31% in the world. China continues to lead in both wind and solar, followed by Europe and the United States. However, this development is not fast enough to meet the world’s highest demand for electricity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Energy intensity finally improved by only 1.3% last year, half the rate for the 2014-2016 period. The International Energy Agency explains that this third consecutive year of slowdown is the result of weaker implementation of energy efficiency policies and strong demand growth in the most energy-intensive economies.
“World energy demand grew extraordinarily in 2018; it grew at its fastest pace in this decade,” said Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the IEA. “But despite the significant growth in renewable energy, global emissions continue to rise, demonstrating once again that more urgent action is needed on all fronts: developing all clean energy solutions, reducing emissions, improving efficiency and stimulating investment and innovation, including in carbon capture, use and storage.