King coal: Fossil fuels prove stubbornly hard to supplant
- November 1, 2023: Vol. 10, Number 10

King coal: Fossil fuels prove stubbornly hard to supplant

by Visual Capitalist

Even as the world’s nations have become signatories to the Paris Agreement with promises to gradually move their economies to renewable sources of energy, 2022 showed the planet is still being dominantly powered by fossil fuels. What’s more, coal, the dirtiest of the fossil fuels, is still king, accounting for 34.5 percent of global power generation, followed by natural gas at 22.7 percent, hydroelectric at 14.9 percent, and oil at 2.5 percent, according to the Statistical Review of World Energy.

More than three-quarters of the world’s total coal-generated electricity is consumed in only three countries: China, India and the United States. China is the top user of coal, making up 53.3 percent of global coal demand, followed by India at 13.6 percent, and the United States at 8.9 percent.

Burning coal — for electricity, as well as metallurgy and cement production — is the world’s single-largest source of CO2 emissions. Nevertheless, its use in electricity generation has actually grown 91.2 percent since 1997, the year when the first global climate agreement was signed in Kyoto, Japan.

However, even as fossil fuels still rule the planet, renewables are chipping away at their market share. In 2022, green energy sources, such as wind, solar and geothermal, represented 14.4 percent of total electricity generation with an annual growth rate of 14.7 percent, driven by big gains in solar and wind. Non-renewables, by contrast, grew by only 0.4 percent.

The authors of the Statistical Review did not include hydroelectric in their renewable calculations, even though many others, including the International Energy Agency, consider it a well-established renewable power source. With hydroelectric moved into the renewable column, together they accounted for 29.3 percent of all electricity generated in 2022, with an annual growth rate of 7.4 percent.

Another big mover in this year’s report was nuclear energy. In addition to disruptions at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, shutdowns in France’s nuclear fleet to address corrosion found in the safety injection systems of four reactors led to a 4 percent drop in global nuclear energy output year-over-year.

The amount of electricity generated by nuclear power stations in France dropped 22 percent in 2022. As a result, France went from being the world’s biggest exporter of electricity, to a net importer.


This article was excerpted from a report published Visual Capitalist. Read the full report here.

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