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Robert Rapier

Robert Rapier

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Renewable Energy Consumption Has Tripled In 10 Years

The is the sixth article in a series on BP’s recently-released Statistical Review of World Energy 2021. Previous articles were:

Today, I want to cover renewable energy.

Renewable energy was the one category that bucked the global trend of declining energy consumption in 2020. Despite the 4.5% decline of primary global energy consumption — the largest since World War II — global renewable energy consumption grew by 9.7% in 2020. That was a slight decline from its 12.2% pace the year before, but it’s remarkable given how significantly the pandemic impacted total energy demand.

Over the past decade, renewable energy consumption has grown at an average annual rate of 13.4%. Renewables were the only category of energy that grew globally at double digits over the past decade.

For perspective, in 2010 the world consumed 9.6 exajoules of renewable energy. In 2020, that had tripled to 31.7 exajoules.

The “Renewables” category above consists of wind power, solar power, biofuels, geothermal energy, and power produced from biomass. The report further breaks down renewable energy consumption into just power production (i.e., without biofuels), and that accounts for 88% of all renewable energy consumption.

The Review reports “Hydroelectricity” as a separate category. That’s because hydroelectricity represents a mature category of energy production that is growing globally at a much slower rate than modern renewables like solar power. Global hydropower consumption in 2020 was 38.2 exajoules, which is still more than the category that contains wind and solar. However, the 10-year average annual growth rate for hydropower is only 2.1%, versus 13.4% for the other renewables.

Globally, hydroelectricity represented 6.9% of the world’s primary energy consumption in 2020, versus 5.7% for modern renewables.

Within the Renewable Power category, wind (50.6%) and solar (27.2%) accounted for most of the consumption. Although wind consumption maintains a healthy lead over solar consumption, solar power consumption continues to grow at nearly double the rate of wind power, and is likely to overtake it as the leading source of renewable power this decade.

China overtook the U.S. as the world’s top consumer of renewable energy in 2018, and continues to extend its lead. Not only does China have the top spot for overall renewable consumption, its growth rate over the past decade vastly exceeds all other members of the Top 10. Cumulatively, the Top 10 consumers accounted for 75.9% of the world’s renewable energy consumption in 2020.

Despite the blistering growth rate of renewables, it’s important to keep in mind that overall global energy consumption is growing. Even though global renewable energy consumption has increased by about 21 exajoules in the past decade, overall energy consumption has increased by 51 exajoules. Increased fossil fuel consumption made up most of this growth, with every category of fossil fuels showing increased consumption over the decade (although coal’s growth was close to zero).


Thus, while renewables have helped reduce the growth of carbon dioxide emissions, global carbon emissions have grown due to the overall growth rate of fossil energy consumption. However, because of the decline in overall energy consumption in 2020, renewable consumption did grow faster than overall energy consumption. In turn, global carbon dioxide emissions decreased by a whopping 6.3% in 2020.

By Robert Rapier

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  • Sean Deenihan on August 29 2021 said:
    Consumption increased nearly 100 exajoules in the last 10 years. Renewables covered 30% of the increase in energy consummed globally.
  • Mamdouh Salameh on August 30 2021 said:
    Still, the fact remains that the percentage of fossil fuels in the world’s energy mix—coal, oil and natural gas—is still lingering well above 80%, a figure that has changed little in 30 years. In fact hydrocarbons accounted for 84.28% of global primary energy consumption in 2019 and 83.14% in 2020. It is true that the pandemic caused hydrocarbon consumption to decline by 5.6% in 2020 but the consumption is now almost back to its previous norm.

    That remains so despite being challenged by serious environmental policies, efforts by the dogmatic environmental activists and divestment campaigners and the IEA to force the global oil industry to ditch fossil fuels and despite a global expenditure of $ 3.0 trillion on renewable energy during the last decade. This is a hefty price to pay just to gain only a percentage point of market share from coal.

    And despite the growth in demand for renewables, the following facts will continue to prevail throughout the 21st century and probably far beyond.

    1- The global economy will continue to run on oil, gas and yes coal (to a lesser extent) well into the future.
    2- A gradual global energy transition won’t succeed without major contributions of natural gas and nuclear energy. This means that net-zero emissions are a fallacy.
    3- Renewables on their own aren’t capable of satisfying global electricity demand because of their intermittent nature.

    Against these facts, the relentless pressure on global oil supermajors to ditch fossil fuels will amount to virtually naught.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business

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