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World's Energy Appetite Growing

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its International Energy Outlook today, and it’s chock-full of excellent data. It points to a number of global energy trends, and the overarching narrative that emerges is the economic ascendence of the developing world (especially China and India) and the sharp rise in energy usage expected to accompany that growth.

The EIA forecasts that OECD countries’ energy usage will grow by a surprisingly small 17 percent by 2040. But non-OECD countries will more than make up for this sluggish growth, as they are projected to nearly double their energy consumption over the next 27 years.

Sure, this is a familiar trend by now, but stifle the yawn. The actual numbers that the EIA is projecting are startling, and as you can see in the graph below, the energy sources many of these countries will be relying on in the future are worth noting:


Liquids (oil, for the most part) will continue to dominate the global energy mix, but the use of coal—that heavy-emitting, health-endangering combustible rock—will rise dramatically. China, which already burns approximately half of the world’s coal, will nearly double its coal consumption by 2040, eventually becoming responsible for 55 percent of the world’s coal-burning. That’s bad news for a country already struggling mightily with toxic smog. One thing that might slow coal down is that the US, the World Bank, and just this week the European Investment Bank have all pledged to cease funding for new coal plants if feasible alternatives exist.

But the biggest projected winner in this medium-term forecast is natural gas, whose expected growth outstrips that of oil and even coal. Natural gas consumption is expected to grow by a whopping 59 percent, thanks in no small part to the shale boom. That’s good news for greens, because natural gas emits roughly half the amount of greenhouse gases that coal does. With carbon emissions expected to grow 46 percent by 2040, environmentalists should be jumping on the shale bandwagon to help push this demonstrably viable and relatively green energy source.

If you’d like to delve into the bounty of information contained in this report, we recommend beginning with the highlights listed here. If that whets your appetite, you can dig in to the raw data here. The EIA does great work, and we’re grateful that these detailed statistics are publicly available.

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  • Andrew Allison

    This does rather suggest that further regulation of US CO2 emissions would be a total waste of time and money. Unhappily, this will not prevent the EPA (which appears to be as out of control as the NSA) from doing so.

    Let me hasten to add that I’m not suggesting revoking the regulations which, in conjunction to the dramatic reduction in the cost of natural gas, have reduced US emissions to 20-year lows; just that the law of diminishing returns and the exponential increase in non-US emissions make additional regulation utterly stupid.

    • Thirdsyphon

      I think you’re probably right. There are reasons beyond C02 emissions to dislike coal energy, and to like the work that programs like ARPA-E are doing, but to the extent that the government is planning any further actions that are solely intended to limit our C02 output, it should stop.
      In my ideal world, Obama would use dropping the carbon caps as a bargaining chip to get the Republicans to agree to increase funding for ARPA-E and as many other basic research programs as they’re willing to stomach.

      • f1b0nacc1

        An outstanding suggestion!
        As a conservative (more libertarian, really) with little trust for, and less love for, environmentalists and their ilk, I think it is fair to look at this as a reasonable compromise that offers soemthing for everyone. This is exactly the sort of smart environmentalism that WRM often discusses!

        • Thirdsyphon

          As a left-leaning pragmatist who distrusts both the energy industry and the environmentalists (while grudgingly aware that, for all their many egregious and ongoing sins, if it’s to prosper,the world needs them both) I’m glad that we could find some common ground.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Here here…
            For the record, I don’t care for most of the energy industry either, but if it came to a choice, I would power my car with dirty coal lit with baby-seal torches if I knew it would piss of an environmentalist….grin…

  • Thirdsyphon

    I’m not sure I agree with that coal projection. China’s not a democracy, but I get the impression that its people are increasingly dismayed by the staggering levels of air pollution that coal has brought to their cities, and as China gets wealthier and natural gas becomes cheaper, I think the Chinese public will become increasingly willing to pay a small premium on their electric bills in exchange for air that’s transparent and won’t kill them.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Considering that China has a plethora of frackable gas and their population has more important priorities than those of bored first worlders, I believe you are right…we are likely to see a move to natgas and nuclear power in a big way over the next few decades.

      • Thirdsyphon

        I agree with you about natural gas, but I think the fate of nuclear power is less certain.

        We’ll see a lot more interest in nuclear if the world comes up with safer nuclear plant designs (safer in the sense of making a catastrophic failure more unlikely and/or in the sense of involving nuclear materials that are harder to turn into bombs); and we’ll see more nuclear development if science firmly connects the dots between CO2 emissions and deadly climate change over the next 20-30 years.

        On the other hand, there are potential future developments that could cut against nuclear energy just as easily. If it should be proven that human CO2 emission is completely irrelevant to global climate change (a development which I don’t consider likely but can’t entirely dismiss), the exploitation of nuclear energy could be set back by hundreds of years. And there remains the possibility, in spite of everyone’s best intentions and most careful planning, that the coming decades might produce a nuclear catastrophe on the scale of Fukushima or even Chernobyl.

        • f1b0nacc1

          There are plenty of good safe designs for nuclear power, but a combination of environmental hysteria and a luddite mentality borne out of almost inconceivable ignorance have prevented them from getting anything near a fair hearing.
          With that said, your point regarding what could help/hinder the acckeptance of nukes is well taken…here’s hoping that we choose the right road!

          • Thirdsyphon

            The designs we currently have are *pretty* safe (it took a LOT to make Fukushima happen), but the consequences of a full containment failure -even leaving aside the mass panic and overreaction- are serious enough to make me wish we had better alternatives. Also, even if uranium fission or tokamak breeder reactors could be made 100% safe from accidental failures, there are vast swaths of the planet governed by people that I quite frankly wouldn’t trust with a glow-in-the-dark alarm clock, let alone reactor-grade plutonium.

            I do agree that nuclear power is our future. . but my suspicion is that the natural gas boom has put that future off by about 50 years.

  • Steppahouse

    In other news, the sun came up this morning.

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