The traditional sources

In my last look at the BP Statistical Review of World Energy data I will have a look at the traditional sources of energy (if you can call them that).  These are hydro and coal but we will also have a look at a new kid on the block, wind.

Coal the grubby founding energy father of the industrial revolution makes up 30% of global energy use according to BP.  With the highest CO2 output of any fuel its use is very controversial.  In our book we had a look at the coal supply going forward and noted the data from BP showed reserves had plunged in recent years (there is also a great uncertainty over this data).  It also the case that reserves to production ratio – snapshot look at how much we have left by how much are using overstates how much is left.  This is because production of minerals in the ground doesn’t go at full tilt until they run out, they tend to decline in a bellcurve shaped manner. Surprisingly the coal reserve data has shown a small increase in the last year (graph below).

coal dataIts nevertheless still the case that in just over ten years the coal reserves have halved and relying on clean coal or dirty coal doesn’t look incredibly sensible.

The second of the traditional sources of energy is hydro.  William Armstrong the industrialist had the first hydro electricity plant built on his estate in Northumberland in 1878.  Hydro-power grew rapidly from this point on and in the early days of electricity provided a very high proportion of electric power.  However, for the last sixty years the construction of huge dams is very controversial.  Loss of habitat, visual intrusion, forced movement of people and most recently methane emissions from dams in the tropics make this renewable source of energy not the greenest ever in many peoples view.   Nevertheless the BP data which shows power output suggests a healthy increase in hydro capacity (left hand graph) and hydro produces nearly 7% of the world’s energy, although it was below trend due to output falls in Scandinavia and Brazil.  There is also more scope for more eco friendly hydro power in the shape of small (>10MWp), micro (>100kWp) and pico (5kWp).   These smaller schemes generally don’t use dams (or only small ones) and can built to be fish friendly.  Whether the data below shows only the large capacity hydro or includes the smaller schemes is impossible to say.

hydro and windFinally wind capacity grew by over 12% over the last year but unlike hydro the growth rate is slowing, the most recent years growth fall is blamed on the US, but the trend is down over the last four years.  Is this a backlash against onshore wind or some other reason such as competition from PV?  Onshore wind is the cheapest renewable and almost competes with natural gas in Europe so this slowdown is surprising.


Previous posts in this series can be seen here and here.

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