Global energy demand grew at its fastest pace in the last decade in 2018, increasing CO2 emissions to a record high, according to a new report.

Worldwide energy demand grew by 2.3 percent last year, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest Global Energy & CO2 Status Report. That high demand, “driven by a robust global economy and stronger heating and cooling needs in some regions,” also prompted a 1.7 percent increase in CO2 emissions to a new high of 33 Gigatonnes.

Demand for all fuels increased across the board, but especially natural gas, which accounted for 45 percent of the rise in energy consumption and was especially strong in China and the U.S. “China, India, and the United States accounted for 85 percent of the net increase in emissions, while emissions declined for Germany, Japan, Mexico, France and the United Kingdom,” the report noted.

Coal’s share in global energy continues to decline, and yet, overall demand increased again in 2018. Coal CO2 emissions surpassed 10 Gt in 2018 through power use alone. Asia — especially China — is the driving force behind that growth:

“As a result, coal-fired electricity generation accounted for 30% of global CO2 emissions. The majority of that generation is found today in Asia, where average plants are only 12 years old, decades younger than their average economic lifetime of around 40 years.”

The IEA release calls electricity the “fuel” of the future, and notes global demand increased 4 percent in 2018, outpacing overall energy demand. Electricity is nearing a 20 percent share in total final consumption of energy.

This rapid growth is pushing electricity towards a 20% share in total final consumption of energy.

Renewable Gains

Despite the increase in fossil fuel use, renewables also played a large role in meeting energy demand. Renewables increased by 4 percent in 2018, making up nearly a quarter of demand growth. Renewable-based electricity generation also reached its fastest pace within the decade, covering nearly 45 percent of the world’s overall growth.

Solar, wind, and hydropower ranked 1-2-3, with the sources making up nearly a third of that growth. Most of the rest was attributed to bioenergy.

The IEA says renewable use “needs to expand much more quickly” to meet the agency’s own scenario for sustainability, from one-quarter of power from renewables today to two-thirds by 2040. IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said,

“We have seen an extraordinary increase in global energy demand in 2018, growing at its fastest pace this decade. Last year can also be considered another golden year for gas, which accounted for almost half the growth in global energy demand. But despite major growth in renewables, global emissions are still rising, demonstrating once again that more urgent action is needed on all fronts — developing all clean energy solutions, curbing emissions, improving efficiency, and spurring investments and innovation, including in carbon capture, utilization and storage.”

Electrek’s Take

Birol sums it up pretty well, and another recent report from the IEA noted a concern with slowing global fuel economy improvements.

This follows a related report from the World Economic Forum. Renewable energy momentum is promising, but there’s clearly still a long way to go. An energy transition needs to happen quickly, and we need policies that will help accelerate the process. But it’s not going to happen overnight.


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