How to understand world energy use – in 10 graphs

How fast is renewable energy rising and fossil fuel use declining? Who’s using how much energy – and for what? Find out in our quick graphical guide to the world energy scene

Environment 4 August 2021

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How is energy use changing?

To limit global warming to a nominally safe level of 1.5°C as laid out in the 2015 Paris climate agreement, we must replace fossil fuels with practically inexhaustible, clean, renewable alternatives, primarily derived from sun, wind and water. The aim is to hit net-zero carbon emissions – pumping no more carbon dioxide into the Earth system than it can absorb – by mid-century.

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A lot of changes will be needed before we get there. Our demand for energy is still rising year-on-year. Discounting the burning of traditional biomass such as wood, fossil fuels cover almost 85 per cent of “primary” energy demand, namely energy in its raw form, before conversion into heat, electricity or transport fuels. Of the big three fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – only demand for coal is falling. More of the increase in primary energy consumption in 2019 was covered by fossil fuels than by renewable resources.

What do we use energy for?

Broadly, our demand for energy can be split into three main sectors, each accounting for roughly a third of energy demand.

First, there is the energy used in the buildings in which we live, work and spend our leisure time. About 77 per cent of this goes on heating (and to a lesser extent cooling). Just 10 per cent of that energy comes from modern renewable sources, which excludes things such as biomass …

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