Another year of energy consumption data has been tabulated. And still no dilithium crystals. It’s too bad, because the world could use some of that clean, never-ending secret sauce that fuelled Captain Kirk’s starship, the Enterprise.
We can’t harness matter and anti-matter yet. So, we’re still reliant on consuming earthly energy resources. The numbers recorded for 2013 remain astronomical: Every day, the world used 91.3 million barrels of oil; 323.9 Bcf of natural gas; 18.5 million tonnes of coal; 450 thousand pounds of uranium, 10.4 TWh of hydroelectricity and a smattering of renewables for good measure.
And the numbers keep growing.
BP’s recently released its authoritative 2013 statistical digest that largely confirms what we already know: Primary energy consumption continues to rise on an unsettling linear trajectory with demand heavily skewed to emerging economies. In parallel, CO2 emissions are billowing out of the over-stoked coal furnaces of the Asia Pacific region.
The first of our feature charts shows world energy consumption by source between 2002 and 2013 inclusive. You can see the volumes notch down in 2009, like a kick in the teeth from the Financial Crisis. But a short five years later the demand for energy has recouped across the mix. Put a ruler on your screen and you’ll see that the pace of growth of fossil fuels has slowed down relative to before the Financial Crisis. Much of the shallower trajectory is attributable to moderating economic expansion in countries like China, but efficiency, policy and behavioural change in western countries are moderating factors too.
Yet a slowdown of energy use on a percentage basis is not a metric that validates notions of sustainability. Absolute volumes are growing on increasingly larger bases of consumption; in this regard, oil is still growing at an average pace of over 1.0 MMB/d year over year; natural gas at 6.36 Bcf/d and coal at 540,000 tonnes/d. For oil and gas the strength of the pull is disquieting, because the geopolitical overlay on finding, developing and supplying those commodities is more abrasive today than it was a half dozen years ago.
Nuclear is down due to the Fukushima tragedy. Hydroelectric power continues to grow at a steady pace, at least as fast as rivers can be dammed up – at least what’s left of them. Non-hydro renewables are growing at an annual clip of 18 per cent over the past three years, but don’t be fooled: many of those Joules are not coming from the high-tech world of wind turbines and solar panels. Denuding forests and burning wood is back in vogue. In places like the U.K., importing wood pellets to burn as a substitute for coal is on an exponential rise. How ironic: Europeans switched to coal in the early 19th century, because they cut down too many trees for firewood.
Speaking of unsustainability, the BP data can also be sliced and diced to give visuals on CO2 emissions. No labels are necessary for our second feature chart. Asia Pacific’s carbon output is going straight up, like a coal-fired rocket. In absolute terms they are already greater than North America and Europe/Eurasia combined. So powerful is the thrust of this trend that the Financial Crisis hardly dragged it down in 2009.
Rulers and charts won’t be necessary to identify global CO2 trends at next year’s United Nations COP21 climate change conference in Paris. But dealing with the reality of the situation will require some straight talk. Even if the U.S. and Canada miraculously cut their total emissions by half overnight to 3.5 billion tonnes, the current Asia-Pacific uptrend would back-fill the North American carbon cut within five years.
The latest BP data doesn’t really show anything surprising. In fact, in the context of all the antagonistic supply-side issues in play today – geopolitics, sanctions, fighting in the Middle East, corruption, cost overruns, delays and environmental pressures – the trend lines accompanying the continued demand growth instill déjà vu, like an old episode of Star Trek that’s been rerun too many times.
No, it doesn’t feel like a sci-fi future yet. In fact, many facets of our global energy circumstance are starting to feel a lot like 2005 all over again.
Peter Tertzakian is chief energy economist at ARC Financial Corp. in Calgary and the author of two best-selling books, A Thousand Barrels a Second and The End of Energy Obesity.