Demand for renewables increases but coal and gas are still king

As a follow-up to yesterday’s story about the price of battery storage plummeting thus painting a positive outlook for renewables, we still have some substantial supply and demand challenges to overcome before we can utilize renewables more broadly on a global scale. This week, the International Energy Agency released data showing that energy demand around the world grew by 2.3% over the past year, marking the most rapid increase in a decade. While nations used a wide assortment of energy sources to meet that demand, fossil fuels were used to meet 70% of overall demand. As the Guardian reported, “gas consumption in the US shot up by 10%, or the equivalent of the UK’s entire gas consumption in a year. Fracking has been a key driver, and oil production in the US also grew, while the dismantling of government incentives intended to reduce reliance on fossil fuels has continued.”

The Guardian further explained that:

  • While demand for solar and wind power also increased, it was by much less overall compared to oil and gas
  • Heating and cooling accounted for a fifth of the increase in global energy demand – the cooling needed for many areas to cope with global warming is an increasing factor in the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, as temperatures in some regions rose to record levels as the result of climate change.
Why This Matters: An argument we hear a lot in the United States is that since we have such abundant fossil fuel resources (such as natural gas) we would be foolish not to use them. While natural gas emits fewer emissions when combusted compared to oil and coal, methane leaks from the extraction and transportation process can negate these advantages–so just because we have a lot of natural gas in the U.S. doesn’t mean that we can slow down on the path to broader use of renewables. Additionally, the IEA found that energy efficiency has been ignored despite the fact that there are numerous economic gains to be had from simple measures to reduce energy waste. Battery storage can help renewable energy better meet energy demand but the United States has to make a more substantial commitment to deploying renewable energy and increasing fuel efficiency so that we can lead the rest of the world in the transition to a green economy.

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