Hit & Run

King Coal to Expand Reign, Says International Energy Agency

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Once and future fuel monarch

For those worried about man-made global warming produced chiefly by loading up the atmosphere with extra carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, the new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) will stoke their fears. The IEA projects:

Coal's share of the global energy mix continues to rise, and by 2017 coal will come close to surpassing oil as the world's top energy source, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said today as it released its annual Medium-Term Coal Market Report (MCMR).

Although the growth rate of coal slows from the breakneck pace of the last decade, global coal consumption by 2017 stands at 4.32 billion tonnes of oil equivalent (btoe), versus around 4.40 btoe for oil, based on IEA medium-term projections. The IEA expects that coal demand will increase in every region of the world except in the United States, where coal is being pushed out by natural gas.

Of all the fossil fuels, burning coal produces the most carbon dioxide per unit of energy. The accompanying IEA Factsheet adds:

  • Coal demand is growing everywhere but the United States. The trend of the last decade continued in 2011, with coal supplying near half of the incremental primary energy supply globally. Coal demand grew 4.3% in 2011, or 304 million tonnes (mt). Chinese demand grew by 233 mt. The only region where coal demand declined was the United States. That drop is neither policy-driven nor a consequence of recession but rather the result of the availability of cheap gas.
  • Even though coal demand growth is slowing, coal's share of the global energy mix is still rising, and by 2017 coal will come close to surpassing oil as the world's top energy source. The world will burn around 1.2 billion more tonnes of coal per year by 2017 compared with today. That's more than the current annual coal consumption of the United States and Russia combined.
  • China has become the largest coal importer in the world. In 2009, China became a net coal importer for the first time. In 2011, it became the largest coal importer, surpassing Japan, which had held the position for decades. Chinese imports (including Hong Kong) reached 204 mt in 2011 and they continued to grow in 2012.

It seems a bit churlish of environmentalists to attack fracking, since cheap natural gas produced by that technology is doing more to lower U.S. carbon emissions than all of the expensive solar and wind power combined.