Global energy consumption trends in 2013

15th August 2014 By: Jeremy Wakeford

Each year in June, British Petroleum (BP) publishes its ‘Statistical review of world energy’, which draws on various public and official sources of data on production and consumption of fossil fuels, nuclear power, renewable electricity and liquid biofuels. While some of the figures need to be taken with a pinch of salt, as they are unaudited, the report and accompanying data spreadsheet contain a wealth of information showing the major global energy trends. Today’s instalment of this column surveys the coarse textures of energy consumption by type of energy and geographical region.

Globally, consumption of primary energy rose by 2.3% in 2013 despite a somewhat sluggish economy. The rich country club – the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – accounted for 44% of the world total, having been surpassed in 2008 by the developing world. China was the world’s largest energy consumer last year, with a 22.4% share, followed by the US (17.8%) and Russia (5.5%). By contrast, Africa consumed a mere 3.2% of global energy – but this excludes traditional biomass fuels like wood. South Africa’s share was 1%, commensurate with its share of world gross domestic product.

Oil once again accounted for the largest portion of global energy (32.9%), but this was slightly down from its share in 2012 (33.2%). Coal’s share rose slightly to 30.1%. Natural gas followed, with a 23.7% share, which was slightly down from the previous year. Nuclear power’s share of world energy declined marginally to 4.4%, while that of hydroelectricity remained constant at 6.7%. Renewables – wind, solar and geothermal – increased their share from 1.9% to 2.2%. Overall, fossil fuels continue to dominate global energy consumption (86.7%).

Consumption of oil – which, according to BP’s definition, includes crude oil, shale, or ‘tight’ oil, oil sands, natural gas liquids, bio- fuels and coal-to-liquid and gas-to-liquid fuels – rose by 1.4% in 2013 to 91.3-million barrels a day. Last year marked the first time that non-OECD oil consumption exceeded that of the OECD, which actually contracted slightly. The US remains the largest oil consumer, at 18.9-million barrels a day, down nearly two-million barrels a day since its 2005 peak. China, at 10.8-million barrels a day, is gradually catching up.

Demand for coal grew 3% last year, continuing the steep increase that began in 2003. China dominates coal consumption, accounting for half of the world total. However, the Chinese authorities intend to cap coal consumption by 2015 in order to address the stifling air pollution in major cities. India’s coal demand grew 7.6% and shows no sign of slowing down.

Consumption of natural gas rose by 1.4%, led by strong increases in North America and China. Developing nation gas demand over- took OECD consumption in 2008, but the trend is upwards in both groups. The US leads gas consumption, with a 22.2% share, followed by Russia (12.3%) and China and Iran (4.8% each).

The BP dataset also provides estimates of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels, based on average conversion factors. The CO2 emission factors for a ton of oil-equivalent energy are 3.07 t of CO2 for oil, 2.35 t for natural gas, and 3.96 t for coal. Global CO2 emissions rose by 2.1% in 2013 to over 35-billion tons. China was responsible for 27% of these emissions, followed by the US (16.9%) and India (5.5%). Emissions from China, India and Indonesia all grew by more than 4% last year, while those from the European Union fell by 1.9%, thanks mainly to the region’s economic troubles.

Global nuclear energy consumption has declined by 11% since peaking in 2006 at 2 806 TWh – thanks mainly to the plant shutdowns in Japan and Germany following the Fukushima disaster. The US accounted for one-third of world nuclear power consumption last year, France for 17% and Russia for 6.9%. China’s share was just 4.4%, although Chinese nuclear power consumption grew by 14% in 2013 and the country is building 25 new reactors.

Hydropower consumption rose 2.9% in 2013 to 3782 TWh, continuing a multidecade steady increase. Electricity generation from other renewable sources – including wind, geothermal, solar, biomass and waste – grew by an impressive rate of 16.3% but, at 1 234 TWh, the total is still tiny.

A couple of issues stand out from this brief summary of trends. First, while modern renewables are growing rapidly, this is off an extremely small base. The world is still overwhelmingly dependent on fossil fuels and will be for many years to come.

Second, the geographical pattern of energy consumption is shifting from north and west to east and south. Nevertheless, per capita energy use is still vastly skewed in favour of those living in OECD countries, which also indicates that there is vast latent energy demand in developing nations.

All this underscores the daunting nature of the necessary transition from fossil fuels to sustainable energy sources over the coming decades.