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By Robert Rapier on Jun 28, 2012 with 15 responses

World Energy Consumption Facts, Figures, and Shockers

In the first installment of this series, I reviewed U.S. and global oil reserves according to the 2012 BP Statistical Review of World Energy. The second installment covered oil production. Today, I want to examine the changes in consumption of coal, oil, and natural gas since 1965 in the three major consuming regions of the world: Asia Pacific, the United States, and European Union countries.

Highlights of this article and topics that will be explored include:

  • Explosive consumption growth in all categories from Asia Pacific
  • Why the arguments of climate change advocates are misplaced
  • Recent declines in coal and oil consumption in the U.S. and EU
  • Why natural gas consumption is increasing in the U.S.

How Much Energy Does the World Consume?

I have often said that I view the growth of carbon emissions as an unstoppable hurricane, for reasons I will reiterate in the next article. Further, I believe one of the reasons that climate change advocates are so ineffective is that they are constantly aiming at the wrong target. The first figure of regional coal consumption emphasizes that point.

Statements and press releases from organizations involved in climate change advocacy leave the strong impression that the biggest obstacle in the war on climate change is Big Oil. In fact, this is where advocates spend the vast majority of their time; fighting against oil consumption. The battle over the Keystone Pipeline is a case in point. But compared to the explosive growth of coal consumption in the Asia Pacific region, potential emissions as a result of the Keystone Pipeline are trivial.

Since 1965, consumption of coal in the U.S. and in European Union countries (the European Union did not exist in 1965, but I will refer to these countries here as the “EU”) has changed at a relatively slow pace. Over the past 46 years, coal consumption in the U.S. has grown by 72%, but it has fallen by 44% in the EU. In recent years, coal consumption has declined in the U.S. as well — down 13% since 2005.

It’s All About Asia Pacific

The Asia Pacific region — dominated by consumption in China and India — is an entirely different story. Coal consumption in the region has increased by more than an order of magnitude since 1965, and is currently more than triple the coal consumption of the EU and U.S. combined. This represents enormous growth in global carbon emissions, which will be the topic of the next post.

The next figure shows that oil consumption trends for Asia Pacific are similar; the region has experienced rapid growth since 1965. The past 46 years has seen oil consumption grow by 63% in the U.S., 60% in the EU, and 777% in Asia Pacific. Oil consumption in the U.S. and the EU has been trending downward since about 2005. But the reason there has been little relief from high oil prices — despite the drop in demand in the West — is that global oil consumption continues to climb on the back of very strong Asian demand.

Natural gas consumption trends tell a somewhat different story. While the trend for Asia Pacific is the same — 2011 is more than 100 times the region’s 1965 consumption — the next figure shows that natural gas consumption in the U.S. is also on the rise.

The rise in natural gas consumption in the U.S. is a result of utilities switching from coal to natural gas as a cleaner and more economical option for producing electricity. The trend has been driven by very low natural gas prices and the threat of more restrictive regulations on coal-fired power. The switch is happening remarkably fast; in 2008 natural gas was used to produce 20% of America’s electricity, but this year the natural gas share will reach 30%.

Strong consumption growth trends are certainly not limited to Asia Pacific. All developing regions of the world have shown strong demand growth as well, but the demand in these other regions is far below that of Asia Pacific. However, total crude oil demand from the Middle East, South America, and Africa reached over 17 million bpd in 2011 — a 5 million bpd increase over the previous 10 years and a total on par with U.S. crude oil consumption.

But explosive growth in developing countries is the real story as far as carbon emissions go, and the topic of the next article.

Link to Original Article: World Energy Consumption Facts, Figures, and Shockers

By Robert Rapier

  1. By Tim C. on June 28, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Excellent graphical analysis, R-Squared. 

    Here’s a question: which will peak first, world oil production, or world biofuels production? 

    Looking at the BP data, the exponential growth in global biofuels production from 2001 to 2010 seems to have stalled in 2011.  Biofuels production may even be down in 2012, with ethanol plants  in the US idling due to weak demand, biodiesel production limited by feedstock supplies, and 2nd-gen biofuels failing to ramp up. 

    Meanwhile, global oil production keeps growing at a steady pace.  Oil production may or may not reach a peak soon, but will biofuels peak even sooner? 

  2. By Laughlin Barker on June 28, 2012 at 11:40 am

    Do you have any per-capita figures you could post as well? Obviously population size has to do with  net consumption levels for a given region. Developed countries will naturally have a higher per-capita energy consumption, but I’m curious about any modeling that tries to take into account population growth, economic growth, etc.

    • By Robert Rapier on June 28, 2012 at 12:47 pm

      Do you have any per-capita figures you could post as well?

      I did some for my book, and will post some for my next post. That’s where it gets scary. U.S. per capita consumption sticks out like a sore thumb, but these countries that are emitting so much CO2 have very low per capita emissions. Just a small increase in standards of living will enormously increase emissions. Are we going to argue that they can’t have that?


      • By Douglas Hvistendahl on June 28, 2012 at 1:03 pm

        We don’t have any choice as to whether they have an increase in living standards. It is possible that some R&D results may mean they don’t need to follow the exact same path. Look up aquaponics, intensive gardening, passive solar, PVT solar, telecommuting, personalized mass transit, etc.

        There is also the question as to whether the global warming by humanity theory is correct. There are many scientists who point out past (larger) warming episodes and alternate theories as to reasons for climate changes.

        • By Tom G. on June 29, 2012 at 1:45 pm

          “There is also the question as to whether the global warming by humanity theory is correct.”

          I agree Douglas.  I have written many times about all of the different factors that MAY be contributing to global warming but we are continually hammered with the CO2 story.  What is discouraging to me is that the IPCC as a scientific community has been either unwilling or unable to figure out how to SELL something as important as global warming to society.  It is as if they do not understanding what motivates a society to change and they certainly don’t understand the average American.   I extracted this short paragraph from a piece I wrote earlier in 2012.   

          “I believe the term “global warming” is a USELESS term outside of the scientific community. I can sell someone a 4 kW solar PV system for their home but I CAN’T sell then ‘global warming’. Global warming is NOT a product or service; you can’t buy it, sell it, save it, plant it in the ground and watch it grow or eat it.  A word of advice; if you want more people to support some type of effort in this area; promote a different term that is more meaningful and people will get on board.”. 


      • By Laughlin Barker on July 3, 2012 at 5:04 pm

        Thanks Robert. By no means; developing countries and economies should have access to energy just as the present-day “developed world” did during it’s period of rapid development.

        The big question is: What can we do to help ensure developing economies “leap-frog” the carbon intensive energy sources (both on the technology & policy side)? Getting the 1.3 billion people access to electricity who don’t currently have it, is one of the first steps in social and economic development. I think we all will agree that if developing countries’ per-capita consumption of carbon based sources grew to that of the US, everybody would be up the creek.

  3. By Doug CARD on June 28, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Coal consumption in the EU is down and  US even for last 20 years.  Silver lining

  4. By Lancaster Natural Gas on June 28, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Very informative graphs! It would be interesting to break up the graphs into individual countries in Asia – I’m sure some (like China) consume much more than others.

  5. By Adam on June 29, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    I’m just curious, but how much of an issue do you feel peak natural gas will be? You’ve talked a fair bit about oil reserves but not very much about natural gas reserves. The oil drum seems to claim that peak natural gas will be coming very soon… and I guess the other question is if demand for natural gas is outstripping supply.

  6. By Robert Rapier on June 29, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    The oil drum seems to claim that peak natural gas will be coming very soon…

    The late Matthew Simmons guaranteed that a natural gas crisis was imminent in 2005. I am on the other side of that debate though. Natural gas prices are so low because at least for now there is plenty of natural gas. I personally do not see an imminent natural gas peak, and suppliers are shutting in production now due to low prices. As prices rise, I think we see supply coming back online.


  7. By Ben on June 29, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    The demand for natural gas will grow dramtically in the next few years and while that will foster  an upward bias on prices.  Yet, such increases may be moderate as a result of increases in supply  that naturally accompanies the production of any commodity yielding consistently profitable margins.  The application of NG and biogas in CHP and distributive networks poses significant advantages, and where much greater use of microturbines introduces a broad range of energy/money-saving commercial and household benefits.





  8. By Ben on June 29, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    RR is gracious re: Matthew Simmons.   We have associates in Maine who knew Simmons from his summers spent at his island home off the coast of Rockland in North Haven.   I think it fair to characterize the man as a headline seeker who may have started out with a genuine faith in Peak Oil, but eventually–and that may have been fairly early on in the process–came to realize that the notoriety about gloom & doom wasn’t all that bad for business.   By the end of his life, and in the immediate wake of the whole BP offshore drilling disaster in the Gulf, his credibility lay in ruins.  This would lead some to speculate on his untimely passing up in North Haven.  Fortunately, no foul play was ever alleged.  His passing was tragic.  It does not change the fact that his ruminations about $200 bbl oil or peak natural gas held precious little credence in the late summer of 2010 and even less in the summer of 2012.   Simmons was never particularly good in explaining the underlying, or technical merits, of his arguments.   Yes, he surely knew many of the major players in the energy game and that–much like what may be said of today’s Cult of Celebrity with it’s warped system of self-serving interests flowing out of ethereal perceptions moreso than actual merits–offers precious little in way of demonstrable expertise.         

    I might apologize here for the candor, but as Sergeant Friday would say……



  9. By art on July 1, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    HI RR,  nice graphs, made me look into coal and coal formation and found this intriguing research PR about the role of abscence of lignin degrading fungi in coalformation.

    makes me think about the role of biotic factors and whether these affected natural gas and oil formation as well.




  10. By genergy on May 6, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    Would adding 500 GW of electricity power generation from renewable energy without emissions at a price to Utilities of €65/MWh change the world for the better?

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