Higher energy demand drove up global CO2 emissions in 2018

The AIE has released its second annual report on global energy trends, highlighting that global energy consumption grew by 2.3% in 2018, nearly twice the average rate of growth since 2010, driven by a robust global economy and higher heating and cooling needs in some parts of the world.

The biggest gains came from natural gas, which emerged as the fuel of choice last year, accounting for nearly 45% of the increase in total energy demand. Demand for all fuels rose, with fossil fuels meeting nearly 70% of the growth for the second year running. Renewables grew at double-digit pace, but still not fast enough to meet the increase in demand for electricity around the world.

As a result of higher energy consumption, global energy-related CO2 emissions increased to 33.1 Gt CO2, up 1.7%. Coal-fired power generation continues to be the single largest emitter, accounting for 30% of all energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.

Higher energy demand was propelled by a global economy that expanded by 3.7% in 2018, a higher pace than the average annual growth of 3.5% seen since 2010. China, the USA, and India together accounted for nearly 70% of the rise in energy demand.

The USA had the largest increase in oil and gas demand worldwide. Gas consumption jumped 10% from the previous year, the fastest increase since the beginning of IEA records in 1971. The annual increase in US demand last year was equivalent to the UK’s current gas consumption.

Weather conditions last year were also responsible for almost a fifth of the increase in global energy demand as average winter and summer temperatures in some regions approached or exceeded historical records. Cold snaps drove demand for heating and, more significantly, hotter summer temperatures pushed up demand for cooling.

Trends by technology

Global gas demand expanded at its fastest rate since 2010, with year-on-year growth of 4.6%. Oil demand grew 1.3% and coal consumption rose 0.7%. Oil and coal together accounted for a quarter of global demand growth.

Renewables, which grew by over 4%, met around one-quarter of the growth in total primary energy demand. This was largely due to expansion in electricity generation, where renewables accounted for 45% of the growth in 2018.

Nuclear also grew by 3.3% in 2018, mainly as a result of new capacity in China and the restart of four reactors in Japan. Worldwide, nuclear generation met 7% of the increase in energy demand.

Electricity continues to assert itself as the “fuel” of the future, with global electricity demand growing by 4% in 2018 to more than 23,000 TWh. This rapid growth is pushing electricity towards a 20% share in total final consumption of energy. Increasing power generation was responsible for a little more than half of the growth in primary energy demand.

Oil and coal grew at similar levels, with significant growth in coal-fired power generation more than offsetting declines in coal use elsewhere.

Trends by region

China saw the most substantial increase in energy demand, which grew 3.5% to 3,155 Mtoe, the highest since 2012. This accounted for a third of global growth. Demand expanded for all fuels, but with gas in the lead, replacing coal to meet heating needs and accounting for one third of growth.

Inputs to the power sector accounted for over 95% of China’s growth in energy demand, as generation from all technologies, especially coal, expanded to meet an 8.5% jump in the demand for electricity. In 2018, China also had the world’s largest increase in solar and wind generation.

After three years of decline, energy demand in the United States rebounded in 2018, growing by 3.7%, or 80 Mtoe, nearly one-quarter of global growth. A hotter-than-average summer and colder-than-average winter were responsible for around half of the increase in gas demand in the United States, as gas needs grew both for electricity generation and for heating.

India saw primary energy demand increase 4% or over 35 Mtoe, accounting for 11% of global growth, the third-largest share. Growth in India was led by coal (for power generation) and oil (for transport), the first and second biggest contributors to energy demand growth, respectively.

Energy demand in Europe in 2018 followed a different path. Despite an economic expansion of 1.8%, demand increased by only 0.2%. An increase in energy efficiency in Germany resulted in a 2.2% drop in energy demand, with oil demand decreasing by more than 6%. Demand in France and the UK increased moderately.