The fast-growing energy source set to replace oil: Yes, it's coal
Renewables have had virtually no effect on CO2 emissions
The emergence of renewable power has had essentially no effect on the amount of carbon emissions involved in energy generation, according to a new report.
The new analysis is from the International Energy Agency. According to the IEA:
The Energy Sector Carbon Intensity Index (ESCII) shows how much carbon dioxide is emitted, on average, to provide a given unit of energy. The ESCII stood at 2.39 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of oil equivalent (tCO2/toe)[*] in 1990, and had barely moved by 2010, holding at 2.37 tCO2/toe.
Various factors have been in play to reduce the amount of carbon emissions involved in energy generation over the last 20 years: some nations, notably the US and UK, have moved to using more gas and less coal. There has also been a slow increase in nuclear and hydro power, which together account for the great bulk of the low-carbon energy generated worldwide.
Despite their high profile and burdensome expense, however, newer renewable technologies (wind, solar and biofuel) are still not making any significant impact as they don't produce very much energy. Though they have grown fast in percentage terms lately, 42 per cent of almost nothing is still almost nothing.
Acting against these mitigating factors has been the massive world upsurge in coal burning, particularly in China - though lately, Europe has also turned to coal in a bid to wean itself off insecure and pricey Russian gas. Coal is a very carbon-intensive way to generate energy, so all this has effectively wiped out the carbon reductions achieved by gas, hydro and nuclear (and the tiny additional ones from wind, solar etc).
So rapid is the growth, indeed, that the IEA expects coal to supplant oil as the world's most-used energy source in 2017 on current trends.
The full report can be read here in pdf. ®
*A tonne of oil equivalent is approximately 12.4 megawatt-hours: a present-day European consumes this much energy every three months on average.