The (not so) green energy race

Pick up almost any mainstream media publication today and there will doubtless be a story about the “green race”, the rapid growth of investment in renewable energy, sustainable transport and energy efficiency. It is certainly true that these areas have seen a stunning upswing in recent years, often backed by government mandates, fiscal support mechanisms and in some places a carbon price, but there is also another reality in play

Overall energy use continues to increase and the growth of fossil energy use continues to exceed that of non-fossil energy. One of the difficulties in assessing all this is that figures from the likes of the International Energy Agency (IEA) and other such bodies typically lag by two years, but nevertheless the data shows some interesting trends (all figures in EJ/annum).


The big question will be the shape of these trends post-recession and post $140 per barrel oil. While overall levels of energy growth continue to favour fossil energy, 2008 saw a noticeable growth drop in that sector and an upswing in the non-fossil sector. Both are likely to be a response to the high fossil energy prices in 2007 and 2008, the recession led demand drop for energy and the increasing support for renewable energy by governments. 

The same charts for electricity production show a very sharp response to the high fossil fuel prices in 2008 with year-on-year growth trends flipping. This broke a strong uptrend in the growth of fossil electricity generation.


As an aside, in Shell’s own Blueprints scenario which portrays a world dealing with climate change through the widespread use of economic instruments such as a carbon price, it is not until the early 2020’s that the absolute pace of growth (i.e. in EJ per annum not percent) in the non-fossil sector passes that in the fossil sector.

My thanks to my colleague Martin Haigh for supplying the figures for this post.