CO2 Hits All-Time High

A report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows that the global demand for energy grew by 2.3% in 2018. Fossil fuels met nearly 70% of the demand, with natural gas posting the biggest gains.

The United States saw the greatest increase in demand, consuming more than 81 Bcfd (2.2 x 109 m3/d) in 2018, nearly 10% more than it did last year. According to the IEA, demand growth was driven by power generation, thanks to extreme temperatures and a shift from coal-powered electricity.

In fact, the share of natural gas in US power generation mix hit a record 34% last year. That trend is expected to continue, with natural gas forecast to grab 37% of the US power generation mix in 2019.

Next came China, which saw natural gas consumption grow by 16.6% in 2018 to 9.77 Tcf (276.6 x 109 m3). The increase comes as the government pushes ahead with its efforts to reduce its dependence on coal and boost the share of natural gas in the country’s energy mix.

According to the IEA, the overall switch from coal to natural gas in power generation accounted for over one-fifth of the global rise in gas demand.

The good news: The switch from coal to natural gas in 2018 avoided almost 60 million tons (54.4 million tonnes) of coal demand. This switch, most significant in China and the United States, reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 45 megatonnes (Mt) and 40 Mt, respectively.

The bad news: Global energy-related CO2 emissions rose by 1.7% in 2018, reaching an all-time high of 33.1 gigatonnes (Gt).

Despite a global move away from coal-fired power generation, it remains the largest source of global electricity generation, with a 38% market share, and accounts for 30% of global CO2 emissions. Coal-fired power plants were the single largest contributor to the growth in emissions observed in 2018, according to the IEA, with an increase of 2.9%, or 280 Mt, compared with 2017 levels, exceeding 10 Gt for the first time.

The highest increase in coal-fired power generation last year took place in China, followed by India. Unfortunately, these countries more than offset the emissions reductions made by the United States, Europe, and Japan.

Most of today’s coal-fired power plants are found in Asia, where some plants are only 12 years old. With an average economic lifetime of around 40 years, the remaining coal plants could continue to offset the gains made by natural gas power plants for generations unless more is done.

According to the IEA report, global energy consumption in 2018 increased at nearly twice the average rate of growth since 2010, driven by a robust global economy and higher heating and cooling needs in some parts of the world. A few takeaways from the IEA report:

1) Energy demand is growing rapidly;

2) Natural gas is our best shot at a greener tomorrow;

3) There is no such thing as “clean coal.”


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