bp Statistical Review of World Energy 2020: a pivotal moment

This year’s edition of the bp Statistical Review of World Energy – which collects and analyses energy data for 2019 – highlights the global energy trends emerging prior to the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Some aspects are encouraging – particularly the continuing strong growth of renewable energy. Led by wind and solar power, renewable energy increased by a record amount, accounting for over 40% of the growth in primary energy in 2019. At the same time, coal consumption fell for the fourth time in the past six years, with its share in the global energy mix falling to its lowest level for 16 years.

But other aspects of the energy system continued to give cause for concern. Despite last year’s decline, coal was still the single largest source of power generation, accounting for over 36% of global power. That compares with just 10% provided by renewable energy. Renewables will need to grow even more strongly over the next three decades to decarbonize the power sector.

More worrying is the trend for carbon emissions. The slowing in the growth of carbon emissions to 0.5% in 2019 may suggest some grounds for optimism. But this deceleration needs to be seen in the context of the big increase in carbon emissions in 2018 of 2.1%. The hope was that as the one-off factors boosting carbon emissions in 2018 unwound, carbon emissions would fall significantly. That fall did not happen. The average annual growth in carbon emissions over 2018 and 2019 was greater than its 10-year average. As the world emerges from the COVID-19 crisis it needs to make decisive changes to move to a more sustainable path.

The disruption to our everyday lives caused by the lockdowns has provided a glimpse of a cleaner, lower carbon world: air quality in many of the world’s most polluted cities has improved; skies have become clearer. The IEA (International Energy Agency) estimate that global CO2 emissions may fall by as much as 2.6 gigatonnes this year. That has come at considerable cost and as economies restart and our lives return to normal there is a risk that these gains will be lost.

But to get to net zero by 2050, the world requires similar-sized reductions in carbon emissions every other year for the next 25 years. This can be achieved only by a radical shift in all our behaviours. By using resources and energy more efficiently. And by implementing the full range of zero and low carbon energies and technologies at our disposal – including renewable energies, electrification, hydrogen, CCUS (carbon capture use and storage), bioenergy and many more. These technologies exist today – the challenge is to use them at pace and scale.

Key findings from the bp Stats Review 2020 include:

  • Growth in primary energy consumption slowed to 1.3% in 2019, less than half the rate of growth the previous year (2.8%).
  • Carbon emissions from energy use grew by 0.5% in 2019, only partially unwinding the unusually strong growth of 2.1% seen in 2018.  Average annual growth in carbon emissions over 2018 and 2019 was greater than its 10-year average.
  • Renewables contributed their largest increase in energy terms on record (3.2 EJ). They accounted for over 40% of the global growth in primary energy last year, more than any other fuel. Their share in power generation (10.4%) also surpassed nuclear for the first time.
  • Natural gas consumption increased by 2%, well below the exceptional growth seen in 2018, but its share of primary energy still hit a record high (24.2%). Natural gas production rose by 3.4%, buoyed by a record increase in liquefied natural gas exports (54 billion cubic metres).
  • Oil consumption grew by a below-average 0.9 million barrels per day (b/d), or 0.9%, while demand for all liquid fuels, including biofuels, topped 100 million b/d for the first time.
  • Coal’s share of primary energy fell to its lowest level in 16 years (27%), after consumption fell by 0.6%, led by a sharp drop in OECD demand. However, coal remained the single largest source of energy for power generation, accounting for over 36% of global power.
  • China accounted for more than three quarters of net global energy growth, while the US and Germany posted the largest declines.

Source: bp