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Geo Briefing: Global energy

Geo Briefing: Global energy Shutterstock
24 Nov
2014
The international allocation of $9.3billion to the the Green Climate Fund highlights the scale of the problem being caused globally by energy production and consumption

The most recent G20 conference in Berlin saw countries across the globe pledging billions of dollars to the Green Climate Fund.

Established to tackle the consequences of climate change, the fund will provide a buffer against adverse weather conditions and rising sea levels and support the wholesale reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.  

But how much energy is produced using fossil fuels compared to renewable energy  across the world? What do we still rely on and what are the most viable green alternatives?

1) WHICH COUNTRIES ARE USING THE MOST ENERGY PER CAPITA?

7WmGmdq WEB
When you look at energy consumption per capita, even sparsely populated countries such as Australia, Canada and Iceland used more in 2010 than countries such as China and India with a higher population density. UK, Libya and Venezuela consume similar amounts of energy  per capita and their economies differ greatly. Of course,  many factors contribute to the overall picture, but a significant link to explaining why seemingly unrelated countries have similar energy trends may be that they favour similar energy sources.

 

2) WHICH COUNTRIES CONSUME THE HIGHEST AMOUNT OF COAL?

coal-consumers
China mines and consumes nearly half of the world’s coal. Developing countries such as China and India tend to delve into their coal reserves as their economies and populations grow. Australia is the only country that produces significantly more coal than it consumes, thanks to the fact it contains the largest bituminous coal reserve in the world – the Bowen Basin in Queensland.

 

3) WHICH COUNTRIES CONSUME THE HIGHEST AMOUNT OF PETROL?

petrol-consumers
The USA, Russia and Saudi Arabia are oil-rich nations. The relatively small populations of the latter two countries mean they produce far more than they use – Russia’s oil reserves are mainly derived from Siberia and, on 28 September, the President of the Union of Oil and Gas Producers of Russia told a press conference the discovered oil reserves stand at 17.8 billion  tonnes.

 

4) WHICH COUNTRIES CONSUME THE HIGHEST AMOUNT OF NATURAL GAS?

gas-consumers
Petroleum, coal and natural gas are formed under similar geological processes. The UK appears among the top ten natural gas consumers largely due to the North sea gas fields. Comparing the three infographics above illustrates that the USA is continually among the highest consumers of non-renewable energy – with China and Russia just behind. While it is clear that the USA and China together consume the lion’s share of the world’s fossil fuels, China has nearly three times the population of the USA, so per capita consumes far less.

Reviewing the total carbon dioxide emissions per country paints a more realistic picture of the world’s worst polluters. It is clear that China’s coal industry alone pushes up its total emissions to nearly twice as much as the USA.

 

5) WHICH COUNTRIES HAVE THE BIGGEST CARBON FOOTPRINT?

global carbonGlobal national carbon emissions 2013. Image from globalcarbonatlas

In anticipation of the 2015 UN climate conference in Paris, the leaders of the countries with the highest carbon dioxide emissions – President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China – have recently agreed that they will both make efforts to significantly reduce their outputs.

 

6) WHICH COUNTRIES HAVE GREEN POLICIES IN PLACE?

Renewable-policies-2014vs2005-800Source: REN21, Renewables 2014 Global Status Report
Russia is the country that stands out as consuming a high proportion of energy per captia, with very few energy policies in place. A country’s non-renewable energy production should be reviewed relative to its use of renewables.

 

7) HOW MUCH OF THE ENERGY CONSUMED IS RENEWABLE?

renewables-vs-energy-consumption
Globally, China produces the most kilowatthours of green electricity. It also consumes far more than any other country. China produces a higher proportion of electricity from renewable resources than the USA – 19 per cent compared to 13.6 per cent respectively. Japan produces the least renewable electricity for every kilowatthour used, deriving just 11.1 per cent from renewable sources. The USA falls a close second. Canada and Brazil are steaming ahead with renewables, producing 72 and 95.8 per cent of their electricity from renewable resources respectively. However, the clear victor is Norway, which actually produces more electricity from renewable sources than it consumes, generating 109 per cent.

 

8) WHICH COUNTRIES GENERATE THE MOST ELECTRICITY FROM RENEWABLE RESOURCES?

renewable-pie
In terms of sheer wattage output, China produces the most green energy. The three clear favourite sources of renewable energy are hydroelectric power, wind power and energy production from biomass. Hydroelectric power is one of the most reliable and stable renewable energy sources – as long as the river is flowing the hydroelectric dam across it will continue to produce electricity.

 

9) HOW MUCH HYDROELECTRIC POWER DOES EACH COUNTRY PRODUCE?

Infographic: China Racing Ahead With Hydro | Statista
You will find more statistics at Statista
China’s Three Gorges Dam spans the Yangtze River and is the largest power station in the world. In 2008, Albania, Bhutan, Paraguay and Lesotho supplied their entire energy budget with hydroelectric power alone; a further fifteen countries supplied nearly 90 per cent of their energy needs. Norway, Iceland and New Zealand produce some of the highest levels of hydroelectric power per capita and due to their small population sizes, often produce more than they consume.

Hydroelectric power may be a world favourite for green energy generation, but by its nature often involves flooding large areas and displacing communities. On the graph above, it is clear wind power is the second favourite mechanism for generating renewable energy and Britain alone powers the equivalent of nearly seven million homes by harnessing it. Brazil has built some controversial dams across the Amazon river, which has boosted the country to have the third largest capacity for hydroelectric energy worldwide. The use of wind power has also been steadily increasing, with UK and Germany leading the market in Europe, and markets emerging in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

 

10) HOW HAS THE USE OF WIND POWER CHANGED OVER TIME?


Graphic Breeze. Data provided by GWEC.Press the play button to see how windpower has burst onto the global scene in recent years.

Offshore wind farms are becoming increasingly popular. Countries such as Britain tend to favour offshore as it creates less problems with noise pollution, doesn’t despoil the countryside and doesn’t compete for agricultural space.

 

11) WHICH COUNTRIES ARE PRODUCING THE MOST WIND POWER?

9 Top-ten-cumulative
China and the USA are clearly leading the way in wind power production, but reviewing this pie chart in the context of continental proportions gives a clear picture of the global market: Asia produces the highest portion of wind power (111,562 MW); Europe comes in second (89,318 MW); and North America produces the least (68,894 MW).

Wind turbines operate at up to 40 per cent efficiency and once installed last for about 20 years. Unlike hydroelectric power, sources of wind are not stable. However, when coupled with an energy storage device, a steady output can be achieved.

Solar power is steadily becoming more and more viable as a sustainable and affordable energy source. After years of being far too expensive to warrant large scale use, photovoltaic technology is advancing and costs are going down. Many countries that receive a high proportion of direct sunlight hours already employ photovoltaic technology.

 

12) WHICH COUNTRIES ARE USING THE MOST SOLAR ENERGY?


Solar energy use per country. Graphic Shrinkthatfootprint.com

By placing your mouse over the bars on the chart you can see how the figures for each country have changed over time. In 2012, Germany was world leader in solar power production, with Italy and Spain close behind. African countries usually favour kerosine as a fuel source, which is polluting, inefficient and dangerous – more than one million people a year die because of fires from kerosine lamps.

Photovoltaic cells do require a large area to generate useful amounts of energy.  A solar cyclepath is being trialled in the Netherlands and by 2050 the country aims to be energy neutral by expanding this technology over its bike paths and roadways.

 

13) WHICH COUNTRIES FAVOUR USING BIOMASS FUEL, AND WHAT ARE THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS?

BIOMASSIVETop ten countries using biomass. Graphic Renewablefacts.com
Biomass is a renewable fuel because the technology relies on releasing the energy inherent within living or recently dead biomatter. This biomatter can be grown to suit demand and is replenishable, unlike coal which is biomass compacted under pressure and over geological time. Biomass fuel does result in greenhouse gas emissions. It therefore doesn’t have a low-carbon footprint. On combustion, biomass fuel releases high amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and it is calculated to account for nearly 18 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

The ten countries that produce the most energy using biomass make up seven per cent of the global renewable energy use. A high proportion of biomass proponents are European countries, with Finland consuming nearly a third of its energy this way.

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