Thursday, April 4, 2013

Coal and gas usage continues to grow on global level

The oil is still the world's most important energy source but the use of coal and natural gas continues to grow in significance, according to new study conducted by the Worldwatch Institute. According to recent numbers the global usage of coal increased 5.4 percent in 2011, to 3.72 billion tons of oil equivalent, while natural gas use grew 2.2 percent, to 2.91 billion tons of oil equivalent.

Both coal and natural gas remain primary sources for electricity generation worldwide and they are also often used as substitutes for one other, meaning that in order to get more precise numbers their trends need to be examined together. The large part of total coal consumption is used for electricity generation, with smaller amounts being used in steelmaking industry. The global coal consumption primarily grew because of rising demand in China and India. 

The coal share in the global primary energy consumption was 28 percent in 2011 which represents the highest percentage since the International Energy Agency began keeping statistics in 1971.

China, the fast rising economic giant, alone accounted for nearly half of all coal usage in 2011. India is the second largest contributor to rising coal demand and is the world's third largest coal consumer, after surpassing the European Union in 2009. The United States remains the second largest coal consumer, though it has to be said that U.S. demand decreased by around 5 percent in 2011 and its decline continued in 2012, particularly because of the shale gas popularity and the abundance of cheap natural gas.

Coal production, as well as consumption, is concentrated mainly in China because coal still remains the main fuel behind the China's rapid economic growth.  The United States however still holds the largest proved coal reserves in the world, with 28 percent of the global total, followed by Russia at 18 percent, and China at 13 percent.

Global consumption of natural gas grew at a slower rate than coal - 2.2 percent - to reach 2.91 billion tons of oil equivalent in 2011. Natural gas consumption grew in all regions except in the European Union, which experienced a 9.9 percent decline in natural gas consumption, mostly because of the struggling economy and high natural gas prices.

Natural gas accounted for nearly 23.7 percent of global primary energy consumption in 2011, experiencing a very slight decline from 23.8 percent in 2010. The natural gas consumption increased most significantly in East Asia, primarily in China (21.5 percent) and Japan (11.6 percent).

Natural gas production increased at a higher rate than consumption, by 3.1 percent, reaching 2.96 billion tons of oil equivalent in 2011. The United States and Russia are largest natural gas producers in the world, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the world's output in 2011.

Whether the strong growth in the global coal and natural gas sectors will continue depends on several different factors. Demand for coal would likely decline with the introduction of new technologies in the power sector, or with the adoption of clean energy policies aimed to reduce the environmental and health impacts of coal combustion. Also, the increasing global concern about greenhouse gas emissions and climate change would likely lead to a greater transition from coal to natural gas. In relation to natural gas there have been environmental and other concerns about hydraulic fracturing as well as the possibility that cheap shale gas might prevent the further development of renewable energy sector.

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