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Energy market and durability - fossil fuels, reserves, renewables, demand

Fossil fuels run out

The world is increasingly dependent on energy. Two major issues are associated with the use of energy. One is the high dependence on fossil fuels, with declining reserves, especially in politically unstable regions of the world or in places where the extraction is technically difficult and full of risks. The other one, and directly related to the foregoing, concerns the greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. In addition, the use of fossil fuels as a source of primary energy also means waste of valuable natural resources with important future alternative uses.

Renewables are not the solution

Fossil fuels by their nature are non-renewable and eventually will run out, forcing economies to adopt substantial changes. Rising prices of fossil fuels and their unequal distribution may lead to international turmoil and instability. Uranium based nuclear is not an alternative. It has inherent major safety risks and uranium reserves are rather limited as well. It is highly questionable if currently available renewable sources and improved energy efficiency can in time sufficiently contribute to a change of the energy mix.

Annual primary energy consumption

World primary energy consumption in 2008 amounted to 11,295 Mtoe (see note on toe at bottom of page). This was made up of oil 34.8%, natural gas 24.1%, coal 29.2%, nuclear energy 5.5% and hydroelectricity 6.5%. Of this, fossil fuels total 9,958 Mtoe (88.1%) [1]. Today, 94% of the transport sector is fuelled by oil products, and 82% of electricity is produced from fossil fuels and nuclear [2].

Small role renewables in world energy mix

Other resources not included in the above enumeration are so-called renewables (other than hydroelectricity, which is also a renewable): wind, solar, geothermal, biofuels and biomass. Renewable energy still plays only a small role in the world energy mix, but in some countries its share is rising rapidly, with the beginnings of a material impact. However, growth is often benefitting from substantial government support.

Proven primary energy reserves

By the end of 2008, proven reserves of fossil fuels amounted to: oil 195.3 Gtoe (of which 12.5% oil sands), natural gas 166.5 Gtoe and coal 412.4 Gtoe. In total 774.2 Gtoe (oil 25.2%, natural gas 21.5% and coal 53.3%) [1]. This corresponds to about 78 times the current annual consumption of fossil fuels.

Identified uranium resources are sufficient for 100 years in terms of the nuclear electricity generation rate of 2006 and current technology [3]. The nuclear energy consumption corresponded in 2006 to 634.9 Mtoe, in 2008 it was slightly lower at 619.7 Mtoe [1]. Total identified reserve can then be calculated to be about 61.6 Gtoe.

Expected growth of need for primary energy

In its 2007 report "Deciding the Future: Energy Policy Scenarios to 2050" [4], the World Energy Council (WEC) concluded that energy supplies must double by 2050, to meet the energy demand of all households worldwide. A further conclusion is that, although fossil fuels will continue to account for the largest proportion of primary energy requirements through the next four decades, world energy supplies can be doubled with improved access and effectively managed greenhouse gas emissions to address climate change. The main driver will be higher energy prices.

Sustainability criteria (World Energy Council)

The World Energy Council has defined three sustainability criteria that the future energy supply must satisfy to be able to meet the world-wide demand for energy: (1) accessible, affordable modern energy for all; (2) available energy, that is, reliable and secure delivery; and (3) forms of energy that are acceptable from a social and environmental perspective [4].

Doubling of demand by 2050 seems plausible

For 2008, the OECD population figure is 1.19 billion [5], and the primary energy consumption 5,508 Mtoe [1]; the 2008 India population figure is 1.14 billion [6], and the primary energy consumption 433 Mtoe [1]; the 2008 China population figure is 1.32 billion[6], and the primary energy consumption 2003 Mtoe [1]. In a ballpark approach, if India and China alone would be at the same level of development as the OECD countries are on average, ceteris paribus (other things equal), world primary energy consumption would be 8,951 Mtoe, or 79% higher. This simple calculation points in the same direction as the WEC figure.


  1. BP Statistical Review of World Energy June 2009, BP p.l.c., London, UK, 2009.
  2. Key World Energy Statistics 2009, International Energy Agency (IEA), Paris, France, 2009.
  3. Uranium 2007: Resources, Production and Demand, OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), NEA report 6345, OECD, Paris, France, 2008.
  4. Deciding the Future: Energy Policy Scenarios to 2050, World Energy Council (WEC), London, UK, 2007.
  5. OECD Factbook 2010: Economic, Environmental and Social Statistics, OECD, Paris, France. 2010.
  6. World Development Indicators 2010, World Bank, Washington DC, USA, April 2010.


The toe (tonne of oil equivalent) is a defined unit, which corresponds to 7.33 barrels of oil or about 42 GJ [1]; the units Mtoe (megatoe) and Gtoe (gigatoe) are used for million and billion toe respectively.

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