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Tsvetana Paraskova

Tsvetana Paraskova

Tsvetana is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and SeeNews. 

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Can Prosperity Growth Go Together With Net-Zero Goals?

  • U.S. power use per capita is high, in fact, much higher than in most developed economies.
  • Prosperity and higher living standards in India and elsewhere in developing countries will drive an increase in electricity demand.
  • Per the various IEA scenarios, global electricity demand is set to surge by between 75% and 150% in 2050.
Smart home

U.S. power use per capita is high, in fact, much higher than in most developed economies, and further growth in prosperity will likely lead to even higher electricity consumption

The International Energy Agency (IEA) advocates for the elimination of energy poverty and for universal access to energy, preferably from clean energy sources. But the agency also pushes for drastic emission cuts and a net-zero emissions world in 2050.

The world can’t have its cake and eat it—as the energy systems currently stand, it’s either maintaining (in developed economies) your living standard, and striving (in developing countries) for higher living standards, or compromising your way of life for the greater good of reducing global emissions. 

Most people wouldn’t compromise on their current high living standard for the sake of keeping global temperatures within the 1.5 degrees Celsius increase. No one is giving up on home heating or air conditioning just because coal, gas, or oil are powering the grid. 

Despite the rapid rise of renewables, stable grids need flexible baseload capacity coming from natural gas or coal to keep the lights and heating on when solar and wind generation is lower than planned.  

But emissions are rising, some would say. Yes, they are. But so is the prosperity of a growing number of people in developing economies, who discover the comforts of their own home, which has been the symbol of U.S. prosperity for decades. 

U.S. Home Electricity Consumption Is Very High

U.S. power use per capita is high, in fact, much higher than in most developed economies, and double the electricity consumption in Europe, think tank Ember said in its Global Electricity Review 2023 report published last month.  

Wind and solar reached record highs in electricity generation in 2022, and they are expected to drive falling emissions as soon as this year, Ember, an environmental think tank, said.  Related: Crude Prices Rise On Surprise Inventory Draw

On average worldwide, the per capita demand for electricity was at 3.6 megawatt-hours (MWh) in 2022. Some major countries had per-capita consumption well above the global per-capita average, and the United States led those above-average numbers with 13 MWh per-capita consumption. To compare, China’s electricity consumption per capita was 6.2 MWh last year, and the EU’s per capita consumption was 6.3 MWh. 

Global Electricity Demand To Surge

India, a fast-developing economy, has a per-capita electricity consumption of just 1.3 MWh. Higher incomes and prosperity for a larger portion of India’s huge population would mean that power consumption will only rise. India, however, isn’t ditching coal, and it will see its power generation from coal increase in the coming year as authorities plan to have coal-fired units maximize electricity production from imported coal to meet rising demand.

India’s coal minister said at the end of 2022 that the country has no intention of ditching coal from its energy mix any time soon. Addressing a parliamentary committee, Coal Minister Pralhad Joshi said that coal would continue to play an important role in India until at least 2040, referring to the fuel as an affordable energy source for which demand has yet to peak in India. 

Prosperity and higher living standards in India and elsewhere in developing countries will drive an increase in electricity demand. This will add to the “electrify everything” in homes and electric vehicle use in developed economies to raise further power demand in the world. Most new capacity additions, especially in developed nations, will come from wind and solar. But until battery storage technology and costs allow for more flexibility of these renewable energy sources in dispatching electricity to grids, the world will need gas and even coal for power generation. 

Security and affordability of energy supply will be key to getting electricity to people with access to such. Globally, 770 million people are still without electricity access, the IEA estimates. A total of 2.6 billion people are without clean cooking access, and that progress worsened during the pandemic.  

Per the various IEA scenarios, global electricity demand is set to surge by between 75% and 150% in 2050 compared to 2022, Ember noted in its report. 

“It is clear that higher ambition scenarios that rebuild the energy system around clean electricity will require far higher electricity demand than the current trajectory,” the think tank says. 

The U.S. Way Of Living Needs Double The Electricity In Europe  

If parts of the world would want to prosper the American way, electricity consumption growth could be even higher than estimates, Reuters’ Global Energy Transition Columnist Gavin Maguire argues.

That’s because most of the homes in the United States are single-family homes, and most were built before the 1990s. Those consume much more energy for heating or cooling than a flat. 

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Detached single-family homes in America were 77 million out of the total 123.5 million homes in all of the U.S. in 2020, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed in March. 

At the same time, electric power generation accounted for 25% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the second-largest share of greenhouse gas emissions after transportation, per data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

In contrast, city dwellers live mostly in apartments in the EU, and people in major economies, including Germany, do not attach too much importance to owning a home or a house, Reuters’ Maguire notes.

If more people around the world want to live in a detached single-family house as a sign of prosperity, electricity consumption in the future could be much higher than currently projected. Yet, those who have seen the comforts of a house and can afford it cannot be persuaded to scale back their living standards for the sake of lower emissions. 

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • George Kamburoff on May 26 2023 said:
    The writer seems to me to be chuckling at the future pollution from petroleum, and our inability to power the world with clean and cheaper power right away.
    We can do it faster than most folk think once the climate deniers feel the truth in uncomfortable temperatures.

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