2019 World Energy Outlook: A tale of all fuels and technologies

3rd Dec 2019

What comes through with crystal clarity in this year’s World Energy Outlook is there is no single or simple solution to transforming global energy systems,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director. “Many technologies and fuels have a part to play across all sectors of the economy.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently published its annual World Energy Outlook (WEO).

Emerging from the report, which explores the latest global energy trends and considers their future impact, is a story of rising living standards, improving access and increasing urbanisation across emerging economies.

These factors are dominating the world’s energy systems and by extension, countries’ diverse fuel choices.

With fossil fuels, including coal, vital to supporting growth, building societies and tangibly contributing to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), greater cooperation and investment is required to build pathways to net zero emissions.

The current picture

Led by increasing energy access and economic growth in emerging nations, global primary energy demand rose by 2.3% in 2018 – the largest annual increase since 2010.

While there has been recent expansion of power generation from other sources, coal maintained its role as the largest single source of electricity and second-largest source of primary energy – accounting for 38% of total electricity generation and 27% of global energy supply in 2018.

Global coal demand grew for a second straight year, driven by electricity demand growth and increasing access in emerging economies, especially in Asia.

Coal continues to provide stable and reliable electricity generation, with its use rising across South and Southeast Asia. In fact, coal is identified as the mainstay of the electricity sectors in China and India, where it supplied over two-thirds and three-quarters respectively.

Looking to the future

According to the IEA’s Stated Policies Scenario (SPS), which explores the implications of announced environmental targets and existing energy policies through to 2040, electricity access is forecast to be the main driver of future electricity demand.

By 2040, 530 million people are projected to gain access to electricity across the globe, mainly in Africa and developing Asia.

Beyond this, the report highlights that 90% of future electricity demand growth is projected to occur in emerging economies, two-thirds of which will take place in Asia. Coal is forecast to play a crucial role in these nations, by providing one-quarter of total generation and one-fifth of global primary energy.

There is also recognition of coal’s role in building modern infrastructure to support developing communities. An increase in the industrial use of coal through to 2040 is expected, with it described as the backbone of the iron, steel and cement sectors.

A cooperative environment for CCUS

The facts:

  • Coal is a significant contributor to reliable, stable electricity grids and the materials – steel, cement, concrete – that are used to build our societies.
  • Technologies exist, including carbon, capture, use and storage (CCUS), to either significantly reduce or eliminate CO2 emissions and, of equal importance, eliminate the emissions that contribute to air quality issues.

It is therefore essential that countries, particularly across Asia, are supported to use coal cleanly.

This is why the IEA has reasserted the need for ‘governments to take further steps to enable a framework to foster the uptake of CCUS in order to achieve levels of captured and stored emissions’.

To meet both economic aspirations and Paris Agreement targets will take a collective move towards innovation from governments, industry and investors.

As emphasised by Dr Birol, a “grand coalition” and “strong leadership from policy makers” is needed to ensure that this can be achieved.

World Coal Association members have demonstrated their commitment to innovation and are actively working with governments, industry and investors to deliver the zero emission pathway.

The 2019 World Energy Outlook is available here.