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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Fastest growing power source is...

In this morning’s SJ Mercury-News, the syndicated “Globalist Quiz” asks a question: “Which fuel is the world’s fastest growing source of energy?”

In the answers, available at the Merc (and the Orange County Register), the authors note that
Electricity accounts for 40 percent of the world's energy consumption, with demand predicted to grow by 3.2 percent annually from 2006 to 2015.
They then break down the relative contribution of four fuels to the global electricity supply, and their annual rate of growth:
  • Nuclear power: 15% share, usage up 1.3% annually from 2000-2006;
  • Hydro: 16%, up 2.5%;
  • Natural gas: 20%, up 2.4%; and
  • Coal: 40%, up 4.9%
The article notes that the high growth of coal is mainly due to its use in power production in developing countries, adding that “China is by far the world's largest coal producer, accounting for nearly half of the world's supply.” China also burns more coal than anyone else, too.

Coal is cheap — needing only basic technology, low up front capital costs, and relatively low fuel costs — all well suited for poorer countries that need to rapidly expand electric capacity to fuel economic growth. Of course, this measure of “cheap” does not account for the cost of the pollution (in the form of particulates and sulfur dioxide) or the greenhouse gases (such as CO2) — much of which is born by countries downwind of the coal users (or the entire world).

Developed countries have been working for the past 40 years to reduce the output of particulates and other pollutants. Before and since Kyoto (1997), they have also been working to reduce their output of greenhouse gases.

However, most developing countries are decades from taking similar measures. The decision of a sovereign nation to adopt such these policies is outside the control of business (and, in many countries, even the citizenry), but it obviously will have a major impact on the global output of anthropogenic CO2, as well as pollutants with more immediate health impacts.

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