Global Energy Consumption Will Outpace Efficiency Gains

A power station using nuclear energy with emissions rising.

(Credit: Pixabay)

by | Oct 13, 2023

Global energy consumption and associated carbon dioxide emissions are expected to increase through 2050 to a point that will outpace advances in energy efficiency.

The news was reported by the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) in its International Energy Outlook 2023. While zero-carbon technology, including renewables and nuclear, will meet the bulk of new energy demand through 2050, the growth isn’t sufficient to decrease energy-related CO2 emissions in most cases. 

The projections in the report are based on current laws and regulations, as well as side cases that account for varying levels of economic growth, oil prices, and zero-carbon technology costs, EIA stated.

“IEO2023 fills an important niche among global outlooks by focusing on a plausible but sober assessment of global energy trends through the first half of the century,” EIA Administrator Joe DeCarolis said in a statement. “There is considerable uncertainty in the energy landscape over the next 30 years, and the IEO provides a set of policy-neutral baselines that will help guide sound decision-making.”

Report highlights

One of the biggest underlying causes of the increasing energy consumption through 2050 is population growth, with the fastest growth of consumption in the residential and industrial sectors. In particular, the transportation sector and global consumption of liquid fuels — notably within the industrial sector like chemical production — is fast-growing through 2050. Economic growth and disposable income are also increasing demand for transportation overall, the EIA found.

“The transportation and industrial sectors are major consumers of liquid fuels throughout our projection period, but as electric vehicles grow to become a larger part of the global transportation fleet, the industrial sector accounts for an increasing share of petroleum and other liquid fuels consumption,” DeCarolis said.

The report also cited a shift to renewable energy to meet growing electricity demand, as well as nuclear and battery storage. According to the EIA, electricity generation from renewables and nuclear could increase by between 54% and 67%. Battery storage, which accounted for less than 1% of global power capacity in 2022, is expected to grow to make up between 4% and 9% of global power capacity by 2050.

“Renewables become an increasingly cost-competitive source of electricity and grow the fastest in cases that assume high economic growth and greater electricity demand,” DeCarolis said.

Natural gas is another area of expected growth, especially in China, India, Southeast Asia, and Africa.

“Across the cases we modeled, energy demand from China, India, Southeast Asia, and Africa will continue to support growth in global natural gas production,” DeCarolis said.

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