Connect with us

Energy

Visualizing the History of Energy Transitions

Published

on

Subscribe to the Elements free mailing list for more like this

History of Energy Transitions

The History of Energy Transitions

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

Over the last 200 years, how we’ve gotten our energy has changed drastically⁠.

These changes were driven by innovations like the steam engine, oil lamps, internal combustion engines, and the wide-scale use of electricity. The shift from a primarily agrarian global economy to an industrial one called for new sources to provide more efficient energy inputs.

The current energy transition is powered by the realization that avoiding the catastrophic effects of climate change requires a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. This infographic provides historical context for the ongoing shift away from fossil fuels using data from Our World in Data and scientist Vaclav Smil.

Coal and the First Energy Transition

Before the Industrial Revolution, people burned wood and dried manure to heat homes and cook food, while relying on muscle power, wind, and water mills to grind grains. Transportation was aided by using carts driven by horses or other animals.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the prices of firewood and charcoal skyrocketed due to shortages. These were driven by increased consumption from both households and industries as economies grew and became more sophisticated.

Consequently, industrializing economies like the UK needed a new, cheaper source of energy. They turned to coal, marking the beginning of the first major energy transition.

YearTraditional Biomass % of Energy MixCoal % of Energy Mix
180098.3%1.7%
182097.6%2.4%
184095.1%4.9%
186086.8%13.3%
188073.0%26.7%
190050.4%47.2%
192038.4%54.4%
194031.6%50.7%

As coal use and production increased, the cost of producing it fell due to economies of scale. Simultaneously, technological advances and adaptations brought about new ways to use coal.

The steam engine—one of the major technologies behind the Industrial Revolution—was heavily reliant on coal, and homeowners used coal to heat their homes and cook food. This is evident in the growth of coal’s share of the global energy mix, up from 1.7% in 1800 to 47.2% in 1900.

The Rise of Oil and Gas

In 1859, Edwin L. Drake built the first commercial oil well in Pennsylvania, but it was nearly a century later that oil became a major energy source.

Before the mass production of automobiles, oil was mainly used for lamps. Oil demand from internal combustion engine vehicles started climbing after the introduction of assembly lines, and it took off after World War II as vehicle purchases soared.

Similarly, the invention of the Bunsen burner opened up new opportunities to use natural gas in households. As pipelines came into place, gas became a major source of energy for home heating, cooking, water heaters, and other appliances.

YearCoal % of Energy MixOil % of Energy MixNatural Gas % of Energy Mix
195044.2%19.1%7.3%
196037.0%26.6%10.7%
197025.7%40.2%14.5%
198023.8%40.6%16.3%
199024.4%35.5%18.4%
200022.5%35.1%19.7%

Coal lost the home heating market to gas and electricity, and the transportation market to oil.

Despite this, it became the world’s most important source of electricity generation and still accounts for over one-third of global electricity production today.

The Transition to Renewable Energy

Renewable energy sources are at the center of the ongoing energy transition. As countries ramp up their efforts to curb emissions, solar and wind energy capacities are expanding globally.

Here’s how the share of renewables in the global energy mix changed over the last two decades:

YearTraditional BiomassRenewablesFossil FuelsNuclear Power
200010.2%6.6%77.3%5.9%
20058.7%6.5%79.4%5.4%
20107.7%7.7%79.9%4.7%
20156.9%9.2%79.9%4.0%
20206.7%11.2%78.0%4.0%

In the decade between 2000 and 2010, the share of renewables increased by just 1.1%. But the growth is speeding up—between 2010 and 2020, this figure stood at 3.5%.

Furthermore, the current energy transition is unprecedented in both scale and speed, with climate goals requiring net-zero emissions by 2050. That essentially means a complete fade-out of fossil fuels in less than 30 years and an inevitable rapid increase in renewable energy generation.

Renewable energy capacity additions were on track to set an annual record in 2021, following a record year in 2020. Additionally, global energy transition investment hit a record of $755 billion in 2021.

However, history shows that simply adding generation capacity is not enough to facilitate an energy transition. Coal required mines, canals, and railroads; oil required wells, pipelines, and refineries; electricity required generators and an intricate grid.

Similarly, a complete shift to low-carbon sources requires massive investments in natural resources, infrastructure, and grid storage, along with changes in our energy consumption habits.

Click for Comments

Energy

Charted: Global Uranium Reserves, by Country

We visualize the distribution of the world’s uranium reserves by country, with 3 countries accounting for more than half of total reserves.

Published

on

A cropped chart visualizing the distribution of the global uranium reserves, by country.

Charted: Global Uranium Reserves, by Country

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

There can be a tendency to believe that uranium deposits are scarce from the critical role it plays in generating nuclear energy, along with all the costs and consequences related to the field.

But uranium is actually fairly plentiful: it’s more abundant than gold and silver, for example, and about as present as tin in the Earth’s crust.

We visualize the distribution of the world’s uranium resources by country, as of 2021. Figures come from the World Nuclear Association, last updated on August 2023.

Ranked: Uranium Reserves By Country (2021)

Australia, Kazakhstan, and Canada have the largest shares of available uranium resources—accounting for more than 50% of total global reserves.

But within these three, Australia is the clear standout, with more than 1.7 million tonnes of uranium discovered (28% of the world’s reserves) currently. Its Olympic Dam mine, located about 600 kilometers north of Adelaide, is the the largest single deposit of uranium in the world—and also, interestingly, the fourth largest copper deposit.

Despite this, Australia is only the fourth biggest uranium producer currently, and ranks fifth for all-time uranium production.

CountryShare of Global
Reserves
Uranium Reserves (Tonnes)
🇦🇺 Australia28%1.7M
🇰🇿 Kazakhstan13%815K
🇨🇦 Canada10%589K
🇷🇺 Russia8%481K
🇳🇦 Namibia8%470K
🇿🇦 South Africa5%321K
🇧🇷 Brazil5%311K
🇳🇪 Niger5%277K
🇨🇳 China4%224K
🇲🇳 Mongolia2%145K
🇺🇿 Uzbekistan2%131K
🇺🇦 Ukraine2%107K
🌍 Rest of World9%524K
Total100%6M

Figures are rounded.

Outside the top three, Russia and Namibia both have roughly the same amount of uranium reserves: about 8% each, which works out to roughly 470,000 tonnes.

South Africa, Brazil, and Niger all have 5% each of the world’s total deposits as well.

China completes the top 10, with a 3% share of uranium reserves, or about 224,000 tonnes.

A caveat to this is that current data is based on known uranium reserves that are capable of being mined economically. The total amount of the world’s uranium is not known exactly—and new deposits can be found all the time. In fact the world’s known uranium reserves increased by about 25% in the last decade alone, thanks to better technology that improves exploration efforts.

Meanwhile, not all uranium deposits are equal. For example, in the aforementioned Olympic Dam, uranium is recovered as a byproduct of copper mining occurring at the same site. In South Africa, it emerges as a byproduct during treatment of ores in the gold mining process. Orebodies with high concentrations of two substances can increase margins, as costs can be shared for two different products.

Continue Reading
MSCI Direct Indexing

Subscribe

Popular