Coal's Share of Energy Consumption at Highest Level Since 1970

Despite the shale gas boom and surge in renewables, coal's global position is as strong as it has been in four decades.
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Reuters

This is not how you deal with climate change.

In 2013, coal reached its largest share of the global energy market since 1970.

Coal has reached its highest market share of global energy consumption for more than 40 years, figures reveal, despite fears that its high carbon emissions make it a prime cause of climate change. The use of coal for power generation and other purposes grew by 3% in 2013 – faster than any other fossil fuel – while its share of the market breached 30% for the first time since 1970, the BP Statistical Review reports.

That number comes from the BP Statistical Review, one of the energy industry's biggest fact dumps. 

Coal consumption was up 3 percent. That's actually a decline from its 10-year average of growing 3.9 percent per year. They say that's largely due to a decline in coal consumption growth in China, though even with its current wobbly economic growth, "the country still accounted for 67 percent of global growth.

Where to look next? "India experienced its second largest volumetric increase on record and accounted for 21% of global growth," we read. And they are just getting going.

Even in the wealthier OECD countries, "consumption increased by 1.4 perecnt, with increases in the US and Japan offsetting declines in the EU."

If any of this surprises you, some people like Gregor MacDonald called coal's continuing surge years ago. "Oil, natural gas, and alternatives dominate the headlines when it comes to energy," MacDonald wrote in 2011. "But there’s a big and largely-overlooked revolution occurring with the energy source likely to become the most preferred fuel for a world in economic decline: coal."

 


This is one of today's 5 Intriguing Things, my daily curated look at our world's futures. You can read the full newsletter and get all five links delivered to your inbox each morning by subscribing here.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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