Eight Insights Based On December 2017 Energy Data

BP recently published energy data through December 31, 2017, in its Statistical Review of World Energy 2018. The following are a few points we observe, looking at the data:

[1] The world is making limited progress toward moving away from fossil fuels.

The two bands that top fossil fuels that are relatively easy to see are nuclear electric power and hydroelectricity. Solar, wind, and “geothermal, biomass, and other” are small quantities at the top that are hard to distinguish.

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Wind provided 1.9% of total energy supplies in 2017; solar provided 0.7% of total energy supplies. Fossil fuels provided 85% of energy supplies in 2017. We are moving away from fossil fuels, but not quickly.

Of the 252 million tons of oil equivalent (MTOE) energy consumption added in 2017, wind added 37 MTOE and solar added 26 MTOE. Thus, wind and solar amounted to about 25% of total energy consumption added in 2017. Fossil fuels added 67% of total energy consumption added in 2017, and other categories added the remaining 8%.

[2] World per capita energy consumption is still on a plateau.

In recent posts, we have remarked that per capita energy consumption seems to be on a plateau. With the addition of data through 2017, this still seems to be the case. The reason why flat energy consumption per capita is concerning is because oil consumption per capita normally rises, based on data since 1820.1 This is explained further in Note 1 at the end of this article. Another reference is my article, The Depression of the 1930s Was an Energy Crisis.

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While total energy consumption is up by 2.2%, world population is up by about 1.1%, leading to a situation where energy consumption per capita is rising by about 1.1% per year. This is within the range of normal variation.

One thing that helped energy consumption per capita to rise a bit in 2017 relates to the fact that oil prices were down below the $100+ per barrel range seen in the 2011-2014 period. In addition, the US dollar was relatively low compared to other currencies, making prices more attractive to non-US buyers. Thus, 2017 represented a period of relative affordability of oil to buyers, especially outside the US.

[3] If we view the path of consumption of major fuels, we see that coal follows a much more variable path than oil and natural gas. One reason for the slight upturn in per capita energy consumption noted in [2] is a slight upturn in coal consumption in 2017.

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Coal is different from oil and gas, in that it is more of a “drill it as you need it” fuel. In many parts of the world, coal mines have a high ratio of human labor to capital investment. If prices are high enough, coal will be extracted and consumed. If prices are not sufficiently high, coal will be left in the ground and the workers laid off. According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2018, coal prices in 2017 were higher than prices in both 2015 and 2016 in all seven markets for which they provide indications. Typically, prices in 2017 were more than 25% higher than those for 2015 and 2016.

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