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Coal and gas hold onto their share of electricity production, despite massive push for renewables

Here’s an intriguing set of facts: Coal produces the same percentage of the world’s electricity as 20 years ago. Oil and gas remain about level, too.

Same for nonfossil fuel sources.

In other words, the massive push towards renewables over the past couple decades has failed to capture a larger slice of the electricity pie from the much dirtier sources, according to BP’s annual World Statistical Review of Energy Sources.

Spencer Dale, chief economist at BP, called the findings "striking" and "worrying," especially given that electricity generation accounted for more than a third of the carbon emissions from overall energy use. (Transportation, industry and agriculture account for most of the rest.)

"This is one area where at the global level we haven’t even taken one step forward; we have stood still, perfectly still, for the past 20 years," he wrote in the report. These numbers "should serve as a wake-up call for all of us."

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Last year, coal accounted for about 38 percent of the world’s electricity generation. Oil and gas came in at about 27 percent, and nonfossil fuels — wind, solar, nuclear, biofuels and hydro — captured 35 percent.

How did the energy mix remain similar to what it was in 1997, despite an explosion in renewables around the world?

Part of the answer lies in our growing energy appetite, especially in developing nations. From 1997 to 2017, world electricity consumption jumped more than 80 percent. The world used more coal, more natural gas and more nonfossil fuels, but their shares merely kept up with the expanding energy pie. A decline in nuclear production around the world also cut into the nonfossil fuel slice.

This isn’t to say the push for more solar and wind hasn’t made a difference. The world pumps out more than 95 times the amount of wind and solar energy as it did in 1997, according to the BP data. Without that increase, and an increase in biofuels, coal and natural gas would have secured bigger shares of the overall pie.

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In the United States, renewables and natural gas cut into coal’s previous dominance::

Source 1997 2017

Coal 54% 31%

Natural gas 14% 32%

Nuclear 18% 20%

Hydro 10% 7%

Renewables 2% 10%

Some other takeaways from the BP report:

• U.S. energy consumption rose 0.6 percent from the previous year, compared to a 2.2 percent increase for the world. China was up 3.1 percent.

• The United States still doesn’t produce as much energy as it consumes, though it’s getting closer. Energy production as a share of consumption increased to nearly 88 percent. The country also became a net exporter of natural gas.

• U.S. carbon dioxide emissions reached their lowest level since 1992, though the United States still had the second highest total, behind China.

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Contact Graham Brink at [email protected] Follow @GrahamBrink.

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