The annual Statistical Review of World Energy report from BP was published last week, and it once again demonstrates that electricity is the most significant and rapidly expanding source of energy worldwide.
Global power production increased by a record 1,577 terawatt-hours in 2021, a 6.2% increase over 2020. To put things in context, the rise in power production last year was bigger than the combined electrical production of France, Germany, and Britain. The increase in electricity production, of which China accounted for over half, reflects the rise in energy consumption as the world begins to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The figures also demonstrate that nations are still largely dependent on King Coal for power production, despite all the publicity surrounding alternative energy and the “energy transition.” In fact, coal-fired power remained the industry leader in 2021, contributing 51% to the rise in worldwide electricity production. Additionally, the proportion of coal in the world’s energy mix climbed slightly to 36% while the proportion of natural gas decreased to a little under 23%.
Despite a double-digit percentage rise in renewable output, coal-fired generation climbed by 805 terawatt-hours, which was more than the combined increase in wind and solar production. Unsurprisingly, China accounted for the largest portion of the rise in coal use, contributing more than half of the 418 terawatt-hours global increase. China uses 54% of the coal used globally, all by itself.
But the story is bigger than just China. Both the United States and India saw an increase in coal-fired generation last year of 122 and 152 terawatt-hours, respectively. The rise in coal use demonstrates that what I refer to as the “Iron Law of Energy”—that nations, companies, and people will do whatever it takes to obtain the electricity they require—remains in force.
Although China and India frequently make the news, European nations are also increasing their use of coal. Due to Russian limits on natural gas exports to the west, countries including Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, and Poland have increased their reliance on coal.
The power industry creates more greenhouse gases than any other sector of the world economy, so all of these figures are significant. And because coal is so crucial to the global electricity industry, it is impossible to reduce emissions without significantly reducing coal usage.
Once more, the BP statistics are conclusive. The increase in coal use, which increased by 6.3 percent in 2021, outpaced increases in the world’s use of oil (up 6.1 percent), natural gas (up 5.3 percent), nuclear (up 3.8 percent), and hydropower (up 3.8 percent) (down 1.8 percent). Additionally, the rise in hydrocarbon consumption explains why greenhouse gas emissions are still rising globally. Global CO2 emissions climbed by 5.9 percent last year. Here in the US, emissions rose by 6.6 percent, which is a higher increase than that.
Despite these facts, academics, decision-makers, and climate activists frequently assert that renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and a small amount of hydropower are sufficient to meet all of the world’s energy needs. This assertion was refuted in a 2017 report published by the National Academy of Sciences.
Never believe the hype. Large-scale wind and solar projects are actually being slowed down or stopped all around the world due to land-use concerns. The Renewable Rejection Database shows that during 2013, 344 towns in the United States rejected or curtailed wind project development.
Just one current instance: Large-scale wind and solar projects were outlawed in a dozen Butler County, Ohio townships last month. In Europe as well, there has been a rural backlash against the energy sprawl brought on by large renewable energy installations. About 400 organizations made up the European Platform Against Wind Farms in 2010. It already has over 1,600 members across 31 nations.
There are a number of reasons why rising global energy demand will not be met by renewable energy sources. Intermittency, land restrictions, a shortage of high-voltage transmission capacity, and the startling amount of materials like steel, copper, concrete, and rare earth elements that would be required are a few of them.
What should we do, therefore, if renewable resources are insufficient to meet our requirements and we are worried about climate change? Nuclear power is the solution. The International Energy Agency (IEA) released a report last week that stated that without nuclear power, “building sustainable and clean energy systems will be harder, riskier, and more expensive,” and that doubling the world’s nuclear capacity between now and 2050 is necessary if the world is to have any chance of reducing emissions.
The IEA also emphasized the lack of development in the construction of new reactors in the U.S. and Europe. In terms of nuclear research and deployment, it was stated that “advanced economies have lost market leadership” and that “27 out of 31 reactors that have started construction since 2017 are Russian or Chinese designs.”
This needs to alter. The United States has been at the forefront of nuclear energy development for many years. However, we have handed up that authority to China and Russia. In addition, the United States has foolishly permitted the early closure of far too many of our current nuclear plants, including two in the last 15 months: Indian Point in New York and Palisades in Michigan.
The European energy crisis and the most recent BP statistics demonstrate that we must embrace the atom if we are to have any chance of lowering greenhouse gas emissions. The United States has plenty of investment capital and effective reactor designs. A total of $3.4 billion in venture money was allocated just to nuclear-related firms in the previous year. President Biden and Congress need to show committed and enduring leadership.
President Biden has a golden opportunity to use his bully pulpit to support nuclear energy in light of the current issues. And this very moment is the right one for him to act.
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