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Ranked: The World’s Largest Energy Sources

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Worlds Most Notable Energy Sources

The World’s Largest and Most Notable Energy Sources

Every day, humans consume roughly 63,300,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity to power our homes, workplaces, and vehicles─about the same produced by over 5,700 Hoover Dams.

While present-day electricity generation is slanted heavily in favor of coal and gas on a global basis, renewable sources have started to gain ground.

Today’s graphic from Information is Beautiful lists the world’s largest energy sources and their energy outputs. These power plants are ranked using the daily megawatt-hour (MWh), the amount of energy a power source generates in a day.

Relying on Renewables

Located in the United Kingdom, Drax Power Station is the world’s largest biomass plant, powered chiefly by burning wood. Originally a coal-fired plant, Drax is expected to fully phase out coal by the year 2025.

Meanwhile, Tengger Desert Solar Park in China was the biggest solar operation until 2018, but it has since been displaced by the Shakti Sthala plant in India. The latter uses only solar panels─no mirrors─to generate energy from the sun.

Overall, solar photovoltaics have experienced the highest growth of all energy source segments, showing 31% annual growth─nearly triple the rate of wind power according to the International Energy Association (IEA).

Untapped Potential?

Currently, 27% of the world’s power comes from renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro, biomass, and other similar resources.

However, according to back-of-the-envelope calculations, the potential for renewables is far beyond existing generation capacity. In fact, humans are just using 0.81% of solar’s potential generation capacity, and 0.57% of the potential from wind.

 WindSolarHydroGeothermal
Potential Energy Generation Capacity480,000,000 MWh401,850,000 MWh86,400,000 MWh48,767,123 MWh
Energy Generated (Current)3,884,983 MWh2,304,000 MWh11,465,753 MWh201,761 MWh
% of Potential Used0.81%0.57%13.3%0.41%

Non-renewable Energy Sources

Nuclear power plants have perhaps the strongest stigma against them─largely due to international disasters such as Chernobyl and Fukushima.

However, nuclear power plants are still the most efficient energy sources, sitting at over 90% average capacity.

The largest nuclear plant (by MW) in the world, Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, is currently shut down due to damage from a 2007 earthquake, and awaiting confirmation to restart operations. As a result, the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station in Canada now holds the title of the largest operating reactor in the world. The plant currently generates about 30% of Ontario’s power.

In 2018, coal is still being used to generate roughly 38% of the world’s total electricity, followed by natural gas with a 23% share.

The Future of Energy Potential

Fittingly, the graphic also shows daily energy outputs for Google and Bitcoin usage. This data helps remind us that our online activity also consumes energy─something that will be top of mind as technology continues to advance and humans need to use more energy through our internet-enabled devices.

Understanding humanity’s need for energy is a daunting endeavor, but it’s critical to ensuring our planet has a sustainable source of energy for generations to come.

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Energy

The World’s Projected Energy Mix, 2018-2040

See how the world’s future energy mix is expected to change by 2040, using projections based on two different policy scenarios.

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The World’s Projected Energy Mix, from 2018-2040

Since 1977, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has put together the World Energy Outlook, a highly anticipated annual report that looks towards the future of energy production and consumption on a global basis.

In the latest edition, the report dives into two very different policy scenarios that help illustrate the choices and consequences we have ahead of us.

In this post, we’ll look at each policy scenario and then dive into the associated numbers for each, showing how they affect the projected global energy mix from 2018 to 2040.

The Policy Scenarios

The IEA bases its projections based on two policy scenarios:

  1. The Stated Policies Scenario
    This scenario is intended to reflect the impact of existing public policy frameworks, including announced policy intentions.
  2. The Sustainable Development Scenario
    This scenario outlines a major transformation of the global energy system, aligned with achieving the energy-related components of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as reducing carbon emissions.

Neither scenario is technically a forecast; the IEA sees both scenarios as being possible.

However, this data can still provide a useful starting point for decision makers and investors looking to read the tea leaves. Will countries stick to their guns on their current plans, or will those plans be scrapped in the name of bolder, sustainable initiatives?

Scenario 1: Stated Policies

Today’s chart shows data corresponding to this policies scenario, as adjusted by CAPP.

See the energy use data below, shown in terms of Millions of Tonnes of Oil Equivalent (Mtoe):

 201820302040Est. % of mix (2040)
Global Total14,55016,20017,700100%
Oil4,5004,7504,90028%
Natural Gas3,5003,9004,50025%
Coal3,8503,9003,75021%
Other Renewables3007501,3007%
Modern Bioenergy7001,0501,3007%
Nuclear7008009005%
Solid Biomass6506005503%
Hydro3504505003%

Note: Data is based on CAPP conversion estimates, and is rounded to nearest 50 Mtoe.

In the Stated Policies Scenario, oil will be the largest energy source in 2040, making up about 28% of the global energy mix — and natural gas will be right behind it, for 25% of supply.

Coal consumption, which is decreasing in Western markets, will stay consistent with 2018 levels thanks to growing demand in Asia.

Meanwhile, renewable energy (excl. hydro) will see an impressive renaissance, with this category (which includes wind, solar, geothermal, etc.) increasing its portion in the mix by over 300% over 22 years.

Scenario 2: Sustainable Development

The IEA’s Sustainable Development scenario is very different from the status quo, as shown here:

Energy Consumption by Sector

Source: IEA

The contrast between the energy needed in the Stated Policies (STEPS) and Sustainable Development (SDS) projections is stark, going from a 2,500 Mtoe increase to a 800 Mtoe decrease in total consumption, driven by residential and transportation sectors.

Under this scenario, renewable energy use for electricity consumption (incl. hydro) would need to increase by 8,000 TWh more, with ultimately more than half of it in Asia.

Renewable Energy (Electricity Generation)20182040% Increase
Stated Policies6,800 TWh18,049 TWh165%
Sustainable Development6,800 TWh26,065 TWh283%

Under this transformational and ambitious scenario, fossil fuel use would plummet. Coal consumption would drop by roughly 60%, oil consumption by 30%, and the role of natural gas in the energy mix would remain stagnant.

Two Scenarios, One Path

Both scenarios are a possibility, but in reality we will likely find ourselves somewhere in between the two extremes.

This makes these two baselines a helpful place to start for both investors and decision makers. Depending on how you think governments, corporations, and organizations will act, you can then adjust the projections accordingly.

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Chart of the Week

Visualizing the Biggest Risks to the Global Economy in 2020

The Global Risk Report 2020 paints an unprecedented risk landscape for 2020—one dominated by climate change and other environmental concerns.

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Top Risks in 2020: Dominated by Environmental Factors

Environmental concerns are a frequent talking point drawn upon by politicians and scientists alike, and for good reason. Irrespective of economic or social status, climate change has the potential to affect us all.

While public urgency surrounding climate action has been growing, it can be difficult to comprehend the potential extent of economic disruption that environmental risks pose.

Front and Center

Today’s chart uses data from the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Risks Report, which surveyed 800 leaders from business, government, and non-profits to showcase the most prominent economic risks the world faces.

According to the data in the report, here are the top five risks to the global economy, in terms of their likelihood and potential impact:

Top Global Risks (by "Likelihood") Top Global Risks (by "Impact")
#1Extreme weather#1Climate action failure
#2Climate action failure#2Weapons of mass destruction
#3Natural disasters#3Biodiversity loss
#4Biodiversity loss#4Extreme weather
#5Humanmade environmental disasters#5Water crises

With more emphasis being placed on environmental risks, how much do we need to worry?

According to the World Economic Forum, more than we can imagine. The report asserts that, among many other things, natural disasters are becoming more intense and more frequent.

While it can be difficult to extrapolate precisely how environmental risks could cascade into trouble for the global economy and financial system, here are some interesting examples of how they are already affecting institutional investors and the insurance industry.

The Stranded Assets Dilemma

If the world is to stick to its 2°C global warming threshold, as outlined in the Paris Agreement, a significant amount of oil, gas, and coal reserves would need to be left untouched. These assets would become “stranded”, forfeiting roughly $1-4 trillion from the world economy.

Growing awareness of this risk has led to a change in sentiment. Many institutional investors have become wary of their portfolio exposures, and in some cases, have begun divesting from the sector entirely.

The financial case for fossil fuel divestment is strong. Fossil fuel companies once led the economy and world stock markets. They now lag.

– Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis

The last couple of years have been a game-changer for the industry’s future prospects. For example, 2018 was a milestone year in fossil fuel divestment:

  • Nearly 1,000 institutional investors representing $6.24 trillion in assets have pledged to divest from fossil fuels, up from just $52 billion four years ago;
  • Ireland became the first country to commit to fossil fuel divestment. At the time of announcement, its sovereign development fund had $10.4 billion in assets;
  • New York City became the largest (but not the first) city to commit to fossil fuel divestment. Its pension funds, totaling $189 billion at the time of announcement, aim to divest over a 5-year period.

A Tough Road Ahead

In a recent survey, actuaries ranked climate change as their top risk for 2019, ahead of damages from cyberattacks, financial instability, and terrorism—drawing strong parallels with the results of this year’s Global Risk Report.

These growing concerns are well-founded. 2017 was the costliest year on record for natural disasters, with $344 billion in global economic losses. This daunting figure translated to a record year for insured losses, totalling $140 billion.

Although insured losses over 2019 have fallen back in line with the average over the past 10 years, Munich RE believes that long-term environmental effects are already being felt:

  • Recent studies have shown that over the long term, the environmental conditions for bushfires in Australia have become more favorable;
  • Despite a decrease in U.S. wildfire losses compared to previous years, there is a rising long-term trend for forest area burned in the U.S.;
  • An increase in hailstorms, as a result of climate change, has been shown to contribute to growing losses across the globe.

The Ball Is In Our Court

It’s clear that the environmental issues we face are beginning to have a larger real impact. Despite growing awareness and preliminary actions such as fossil fuel divestment, the Global Risk Report stresses that there is much more work to be done to mitigate risks.

How companies and governments choose to respond over the next decade will be a focal point of many discussions to come.

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