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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

A Global Breakdown of Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector

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A Global Breakdown of Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector

In a few decades, greenhouse gases (GHGs)—chiefly in the form of CO₂ emissions—have risen at unprecedented rates as a result of global growth and resource consumption.

To uncover the major sectors where these emissions originate, this graphic from Our World in Data pulls the latest data from 2016 courtesy of Climate Watch and the World Resources Institute, when total emissions reached 49.4 billion tonnes of CO₂ equivalents (CO₂e).

Sources of GHG Emissions

Global GHG emissions can be roughly traced back to four broad categories: energy, agriculture, industry, and waste. Overwhelmingly, almost three-quarters of GHG emissions come from our energy consumption.

SectorGlobal GHG Emissions Share
Energy Use73.2%
Agriculture, Forestry & Land Use18.4%
Industrial processes5.2%
Waste3.2%

Within each category, there are even more granular breakdowns to consider. We’ll take a closer look at the top two, which collectively account for over 91% of global GHG emissions.

Energy Use

Within this broad category, we can further break things down into sub-categories like transport, buildings, and industry-related energy consumption, to name a few.

Sub-sectorGHG Emissions ShareFurther breakdown
Transport16.2%• Road 11.9%
• Aviation 1.9%
• Rail 0.4%
• Pipeline 0.3%
• Ship 1.7%
Buildings17.5%• Residential 10.9%
• Commercial 6.6%
Industry energy24.2%• Iron & Steel 7.2%
• Non-ferrous metals 0.7%
• Machinery 0.5%
• Food and tobacco 1.0%
• Paper, pulp & printing 0.6%
• Chemical & petrochemical (energy) 3.6%
• Other industry 10.6%
Agriculture & Fishing energy1.7%-
Unallocated fuel combustion7.8%-
Fugitive emissions from energy production5.8%• Coal 1.9%
• Oil & Natural Gas 3.9%
Total73.2%

Billions of people rely on petrol and diesel-powered vehicles to get around. As a result, they contribute to almost 12% of global emissions.

But this challenge is also an opportunity: the consumer adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) could significantly help shift the world away from fossil fuel use, both for passenger travel and for freight—although there are still speedbumps to overcome.

Meanwhile, buildings contribute 17.5% of energy-related emissions overall—which makes sense when you realize the stunning fact that cities use 60-80% of the world’s annual energy needs. With megacities (home to 10+ million people) ballooning every day to house the growing urban population, these shares may rise even further.

Agriculture, Forestry & Land Use

The second biggest category of emissions is the sector that we rely on daily for the food we eat.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, methane from cows and other livestock contribute the most to emissions, at 5.8% total. These foods also have some of the highest carbon footprints, from farm to table.

Sub-sectorGHG Emissions Share
Livestock & Manure5.8%
Agricultural Soils4.1%
Crop Burning3.5%
Forest Land2.2%
Cropland1.4%
Rice Cultivation1.3%
Grassland0.1%
Total18.4%

Another important consideration is just how much land our overall farming requirements take up. When significant areas of forest are cleared for grazing and cropland, there’s a clear link between our land use and rising global emissions.

Although many of these energy systems are still status quo, the global energy mix is ripe for change. As the data shows, the potential points of disruption have become increasingly clear as the world moves towards a green energy revolution.

For a different view on global emissions data, see which countries generate the most CO₂ emissions per capita.

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Energy

Mainstream EV Adoption: 5 Speedbumps to Overcome

The pace of mainstream EV adoption has been slow, but is expected to accelerate as automakers overcome these five critical challenges.

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Mainstream EV Adoption: 5 Speedbumps to Overcome

Many would agree that a global shift to electric vehicles (EV) is an important step in achieving a carbon-free future. However, for various reasons, EVs have so far struggled to break into the mainstream, accounting for just 2.5% of global auto sales in 2019.

To understand why, this infographic from Castrol identifies the five critical challenges that EVs will need to overcome. All findings are based on a 2020 survey of 10,000 consumers, fleet managers, and industry specialists across eight significant EV markets.

The Five Challenges to EV Adoption

Cars have relied on the internal combustion engine (ICE) since the early 1900s, and as a result, the ownership experience of an EV can be much more nuanced. This results in the five critical challenges we examine below.

Challenge #1: Price

The top challenge is price, with 63% of consumers believing that EVs are beyond their current budget. Though many cheaper EV models are being introduced, ICE vehicles still have the upper hand in terms of initial affordability. Note the emphasis on “initial”, because over the long term, EVs may actually be cheaper to maintain.

Taking into account all of the running and maintenance costs of [an EV], we have already reached relative cost parity in terms of ownership.

—President, EV consultancy, U.S.

For starters, an EV drivetrain has significantly fewer moving parts than an ICE equivalent, which could result in lower repair costs. Government subsidies and the cost of electricity are other aspects to consider.

So what is the tipping price that would convince most consumers to buy an EV? According to Castrol, it differs around the world.

CountryEV Adoption Tipping Price ($)
🇯🇵 Japan$42,864
🇨🇳 China $41,910
🇩🇪 Germany$38,023
🇳🇴 Norway$36,737
🇺🇸 U.S.$35,765
🇫🇷 France$31,820
🇮🇳 India$30,572
🇬🇧 UK$29,883
Global Average$35,947

Many budget-conscious buyers also rely on the used market, in which EVs have little presence. The rapid speed of innovation is another concern, with 57% of survey respondents citing possible depreciation as a factor that prevented them from buying an EV.

Challenge #2: Charge Time

Most ICE vehicles can be refueled in a matter of minutes, but there is much more uncertainty when it comes to charging an EV.

Using a standard home charger, it takes 10-20 hours to charge a typical EV to 80%. Even with an upgraded fast charger (3-22kW power), this could still take up to 4 hours. The good news? Next-gen charging systems capable of fully charging an EV in 20 minutes are slowly becoming available around the world.

Similar to the EV adoption tipping price, Castrol has also identified a charge time tipping point—the charge time required for mainstream EV adoption.

CountryCharge Time Tipping Point (minutes)
🇮🇳 India35
🇨🇳 China34
🇺🇸 U.S.30
🇬🇧 UK30
🇳🇴 Norway29
🇩🇪 Germany29
🇯🇵 Japan29
🇫🇷 France27
Global Average31

If the industry can achieve an average 31 minute charge time, EVs could reach $224 billion in annual revenues across these eight markets alone.

Challenge #3: Range

Over 70% of consumers rank the total range of an EV as being important to them. However, today’s affordable EV models (below the average tipping price of $35,947) all have ranges that fall under 200 miles.

Traditional gas-powered vehicles, on the other hand, typically have a range between 310-620 miles. While Tesla offers several models boasting a 300+ mile range, their purchase prices are well above the average tipping price.

For the majority of consumers to consider an EV, the following range requirements will need to be met by vehicle manufacturers.

CountryRange Tipping Point (miles)
🇺🇸 U.S.321
🇳🇴 Norway315
🇨🇳 China300
🇩🇪 Germany293
🇫🇷 France289
🇯🇵 Japan283
🇬🇧 UK283
🇮🇳 India249
Global Average291

Fleet managers, those who oversee vehicles for services such as deliveries, reported a higher average EV tipping range of 341 miles.

Challenge #4: Charging Infrastructure

Charging infrastructure is the fourth most critical challenge, with 64% of consumers saying they would consider an EV if charging was convenient.

Similar to charge times, there is much uncertainty surrounding infrastructure. For example, 65% of consumers living in urban areas have a charging point within 5 miles of their home, compared to just 26% for those in rural areas.

Significant investment in public charging infrastructure will be necessary to avoid bottlenecks as more people adopt EVs. China is a leader in this regard, with billions spent on EV infrastructure projects. The result is a network of over one million charging stations, providing 82% of Chinese consumers with convenient access.

Challenge #5: Vehicle Choice

The least important challenge is increasing the variety of EV models available. This issue is unlikely to persist for long, as industry experts believe 488 unique models will exist by 2025.

Despite variety being less influential than charge times or range, designing models that appeal to various consumer niches will likely help to accelerate EV adoption. Market research will be required, however, because attitudes towards EVs vary by country.

CountryConsumers Who Believe EVs Are More Fashionable Than ICE Vehicles (%)
🇮🇳 India70%
🇨🇳 China68%
🇫🇷 France46%
🇩🇪 Germany40%
🇺🇸 UK40%
🇯🇵 Japan39%
🇺🇸 U.S.33%
🇳🇴 Norway 31%
Global Average48%

A majority of Chinese and Indian consumers view EVs more favorably than traditional ICE vehicles. This could be the result of a lower familiarity with cars in general—in 2000, for example, China had just four million cars spread across its population of over one billion.

EVs are the least alluring in the U.S. and Norway, which coincidentally have the highest GDP per capita among the eight countries surveyed. These consumers may be accustomed to a higher standard of quality as a result of their greater relative wealth.

So When Do EVs Become Mainstream?

As prices fall and capabilities improve, Castrol predicts a majority of consumers will consider buying an EV by 2024. Global mainstream adoption could take slightly longer, arriving in 2030.

Caution should be exhibited, as these estimates rely on the five critical challenges being solved in the short-term future. This hinges on a number of factors, including technological change, infrastructure investment, and a shift in consumer attitudes.

New challenges could also arise further down the road. EVs require a significant amount of minerals such as copper and lithium, and a global increase in production could put strain on the planet’s limited supply.

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