Fossil energy hits another peak

Smoke from coal fired power plant chimneys, illuminated by sunlight in the distance

Global energy consumption reached a record peak of 620 Exjoules (EJ) in 2023, with fossil fuel consumption and energy sector emissions also hitting record highs, according to the Statistical Review of World Energy, published on 20 June by the Energy Institute, Kearney and KPMG.

The report noted that in 2023 global fossil fuel consumption rose 1.5% to 505 EJ, which was driven by coal rising by 1.6%, and oil rising by 2% to over 100 million barrels for the first time, while gas consumption remained flat. As a share of the overall mix they were at 81.5%, marginally down from 82% last year.

And emissions from energy increased by 2%, exceeding 40 gigatonnes of CO2 for the first time.

But it was also a year of record uptake of renewable energy, whose rose 13% to a record high of 4,748 TWh (excluding hydroelectric). This growth was driven almost entirely by wind and solar, which rose by 13% to hit a new record of 4,748 terawatt hours in 2023.

Divergent paths
Beneath the figures, the story to be told was one of divergence between different parts of the world, with growth economies such as India clearly struggling to curb fossil fuels growth, while in China renewables uptake was clearly accelerating. Meanwhile, dependence on fossil fuels in major advanced economies was “likely to have peaked”.

In Europe fossil fuels fell to below 70% of primary energy for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, driven by demand reduction and renewable energy growth.

US consumption of fossil fuels fell to 80% of total primary energy consumed.

However, in India fossil fuel consumption was up 8%, accounting for almost all demand growth, and stood at 89% share of overall consumption. For the first time, more coal was used in India than Europe and North America combined.

In Africa primary energy consumption fell in 2023 by 0.5%. Fossil fuels accounted for 90% of overall energy consumption, with renewables (excluding hydro) at only 6% of electricity.

China’s full return post-Covid saw fossil fuel use increase to a new high, up 6%, but as a share of primary energy it has been in decline since 2011, down to 81.6% in 2023. China added 55% of all renewable generation additions in 2023, i.e. more than the rest of the world combined. It also overtook Europe on an energy per capita basis for the first time.

EI Chief Executive Nick Wayth CEng FEI, said:“The progress of the transition is slow, but the big picture masks diverse energy stories playing out across different geographies. In advanced economies we observe signs of demand for fossil fuels peaking, contrasting with economies in the Global South for whom economic development and improvements in quality of life continue to drive fossil growth.”

Simon Virley CB FEI, Vice Chair and Head of Energy and Natural Resources, KPMG in the UK said: “In a year where we have seen the contribution of renewables reaching a new record high, ever increasing global energy demand means the share coming from fossil fuels has remained virtually unchanged at just over 80% for yet another year.

“With CO2 emissions also reaching record levels, it’s time to redouble our efforts on reducing carbon emissions and providing finance and capacity to build more low carbon energy sources in the global south where demand is growing at a rapid pace.”

Commentary in The Guardian noted that the findings would augur ill for hopes voiced at COP last year, that 2023 would go down in history as the year in which annual emissions peaked before the global fossil fuel economy began a terminal decline.