Solar Surge, Coal Crash Bring No Climate Cure

In June of each year two important reports greatly aid our understanding of the global energy industry. They are among my key sources of energy statistics, so I always look forward to their release.

The Renewables 2016 Global Status Report (GSR) was published two weeks ago by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21). The GSR provides a comprehensive view of the global renewable energy picture. (Full disclosure: I have been a contributor to and reviewer of the report for the past seven years.)

But the most comprehensive energy data is compiled in the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. Last week the 2016 report, covering statistics through 2015, was released. The BP statistical review contains global and country level statistics on production and consumption for oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear power and renewables — as well as country-level and global carbon dioxide emissions.

I will delve into both of these reports in upcoming articles, but today I want to do a high-level review of the newest annual from BP.


The major takeaways from the report confirm the trends we’ve focused on repeatedly: record demand for crude oil and natural gas, lower demand for coal, record consumption of renewables and a new all-time high for global carbon dioxide emissions.

Demand for crude oil set a new all time-high, growing a robust 1.9 million barrels per day (bpd) from 2014 (+1.9% year-over-year). But the production growth of recent years continued as well, as global crude oil production surged by 2.8 million bpd. This overproduction has inevitably depressed oil prices, but supply and demand should tighten this year.

Natural gas consumption grew by 1.7% in 2015 to an all-time high. U.S. production hit an all-time record of 74.2 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d). The U.S. remains the world’s largest natural gas producer, far ahead of runner-up Russia’s 55.5 Bcf/d. However, the U.S. consumes approximately as much as it produces, while Russia’s 37.9 Bcf/d of consumption enables it to export huge volumes of natural gas.  

The coal industry had perhaps its worst year ever, amid the largest annual consumption drop in at least half a century. Consumption in the U.S. was down a whopping 12.7%, while the world’s leading producer and consumer of coal — China — used 1.5% less of it. This marks the second straight annual decline in China’s coal consumption.

Nuclear power continues to slowly recover from the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. After sharp declines in 2011 and 2012, the world has now experienced three straight years of growth in nuclear power consumption. Last year saw modest growth of 1.3% from 2014. Major increases in nuclear power consumption took place in China (+28.9%), Argentina (+23.5%), Mexico (+19.6%), the United Kingdom (+10.3%) and India (+9.5%). At the other end of the spectrum were huge declines in nuclear power production in South Africa (-25.7%), Belgium (-22.6%), Iran (-18.6%), Switzerland (-16.2%), and Taiwan (-14%).

Renewables had a record year, with the strong growth in solar power (+33% year-over-year) leading the way. Wind power consumption grew 17%, while the gains by geothermal (+5%), hydropower (+1%), and biofuels (+0.9%) were modest. Across all categories, consumption of renewable power grew 15% over 2014.

Despite the record year for renewables, it was also a record year for overall fossil fuel consumption. As a result, global carbon dioxide emissions once again set a new all-time record high. Carbon dioxide emissions in 2015 were 36 million metric tons higher than in 2014, setting a record for the sixth straight year.

In upcoming issues, I will take a closer look at each of these sectors. In this week’s The Energy Strategist I reviewed the oil markets. I will provide a condensed version of that review here next week.     

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