A Lifetime’s Consumption of Fossil Fuels, Visualized
Connect with us

Energy

A Lifetime’s Consumption of Fossil Fuels, Visualized

Published

on

Subscribe to the Elements free mailing list for more like this

A Lifetime’s Consumption of Fossil Fuels, Visualized

Visualizing the Fossil Fuels we Consume in a Lifetime

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

From burning natural gas to heat our homes to the petroleum-based materials found in everyday products like pharmaceuticals and plastics, we all consume fossil fuels in one form or another.

In 2021, the world consumed nearly 490 exajoules of fossil fuels, an unfathomable figure of epic proportions.

To put fossil fuel consumption into perspective on a more individual basis, this graphic visualizes the average person’s fossil fuel use over a lifetime of 80 years using data from the National Mining Association and BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy.

How Many Fossil Fuels a Person Consumes Every Year

On a day-to-day basis, our fossil fuel consumption might seem minimal, however, in just a year the average American consumes more than 23 barrels of petroleum products like gasoline, propane, or jet fuel.

The cube of the average individual’s yearly petroleum product consumption reaches around 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) tall. When you consider varying transportation choices and lifestyles, from public transit to private jets, the yearly cube of petroleum product consumption for some people may easily overtake their height.

annual fossil fuel consumption

To calculate the volume needed to visualize the petroleum products and coal cubes (natural gas figures were already in volume format), we used the densities of bulk bituminous coal (833kg/m3) and petroleum products (800kg/m3) along with the weights of per capita consumption in the U.S. from the National Mining Association.

These figures are averages, and can differ per person depending on a region’s energy mix, transportation choices, and consumption habits, along with other factors.

Global Fossil Fuel Consumption Rebounds Post-Pandemic

When the global economy reopened post-pandemic, energy demand and consumption rebounded past 2019 levels with fossil fuels largely leading the way. While global primary energy demand grew 5.8% in 2021, coal consumption rose by 6% reaching highs not seen since 2014.

In 2021, renewables and hydroelectricity made up nearly 14% of the world’s primary energy use, with fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal) accounting for 82% (down from 83% in 2020), and nuclear energy accounting for the remaining 4%.

Recent demand for fossil fuels has been underpinned by their reliability as generating energy from renewables in Germany has been inconsistent when it’s been needed most.

Now the country grapples with energy rations as it restarts coal-fired power plants in response to its overdependence on Russian fossil fuel energy as the potential permanence of the Nord Stream 1 natural gas pipeline shutdown looms.

Growing Green Energy Amidst Geopolitical Instability

Domestic energy and material supply chain independence quickly became a top priority for many nations amidst Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Western trade sanctions, and increasingly unpredictable COVID-19 lockdowns in China.

Trade and energy dependence risks still remain a major concern as many nations transition towards renewable energy. For example, essential rare earth mineral production, and solar PV manufacturing supply chains remain dominated by China.

Despite looming storm clouds over global energy and materials trade, renewable energy’s green linings are growing on the global scale. The world’s renewable primary energy consumption reached an annual growth rate of 15%, outgrowing all other energy fuels as wind and solar provided a milestone 10% of global electricity in 2021.

If the global energy mix continues to get greener fast enough, the cubes of our personal fossil fuel consumption may manage to get smaller in the future.

Subscribe to Visual Capitalist
Click for Comments

Energy

Visualizing the New Era of Energy

This infographic explores the exponential growth of the technologies that are shaping the new era of energy.

Published

on

The following content is sponsored by Surge Battery Metals
new era of energy

The New Era of Energy

Energy is the pulse of our daily lives, powering everything from our homes to our cars and electronic gadgets. 

Over the last two decades, there’s been an ongoing shift in how we produce and consume energy, largely due to rising climate awareness among both governments and consumers.

The above infographic from Surge Battery Metals highlights the increasing uptake of clean energy technologies and explains the need for the raw materials that power them. This is part two of three infographics in the Energy Independence Series.

The Growth of Clean Energy

Government policies, falling production costs, and climate consciousness have all contributed to the exponential adoption of green energy technologies. 

For example, only a few countries were actively encouraging EV adoption a decade ago, but today, millions of consumers can take advantage of EV tax concessions and purchase subsidies with governments committed to phasing out internal combustion engines. Partly as a result, electric vehicles (EVs) are well on their way to mainstream adoption. 

Here’s a look at how the number of electric cars on the road has grown since 2011, including both battery EVs and plug-in hybrids:

Country/Region2011 Electric Car Stock2021 Electric Car Stock
China10,0007,800,000
Europe20,0005,500,000
U.S.20,0002,000,000
Other20,0001,100,000
Total70,00016,400,000

In 2021, the global electric car stock stood at around 16.4 million cars, up by around 60% from 2020. EV sales also more than doubled to reach 6.8 million units.

Alongside electric cars, renewable energy technologies are also on the road to dominating the global energy mix. In 2021, renewables accounted for 16% of global energy consumption—up from just 8% in 2000. This growth is largely down to solar and wind energy, which made up the majority of new renewable capacity additions:

YearNet Renewable Capacity Additions
(gigawatts)
Solar PV
% Share
Wind
% Share
2011109.428%36%
2012116.425%40%
2013122.930%27%
2014135.130%37%
2015159.731%42%
2016171.344%30%
2017174.855%27%
2018179.354%28%
2019193.856%31%
2020280.248%40%
2021288.954%31%

Every year since 2018, solar and wind have accounted for more than 80% of new renewable capacity additions, contributing to the record-breaking growth of clean energy. 

Despite this growth, the IEA projects that both EVs and renewables need to expand their reach significantly if the world is to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Electric car sales need to hit 56 million units by 2030—more than eight times the 6.6 million cars sold in 2021. Similarly, solar PV and wind additions need to quadruple by 2030 from 2021 levels. 

This new era of clean energy will require an increase in the supply of EVs, solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries, which translates into more demand for the unnoticed raw materials behind these technologies.

The Metals Behind Clean Energy

From copper in cables to lithium in batteries, some metals are key to building and growing clean energy capacity. 

In fact, for every megawatt of capacity, solar photovoltaic farms use more than 2,800 kg of copper according to the IEA. Offshore wind farms, which are connected to land by massive undersea cables, use even more copper at 8,000 kg per megawatt. Similarly, electric cars use lithium-ion batteries, which are composed of a variety of minerals, including graphite, copper, nickel, and lithium.

While the demand for these clean energy minerals is skyrocketing, their supply remains a concern, with China dominating the supply chains. In the new era of energy, domestic supplies of these materials will be key to ensuring energy independence and lower reliance on foreign imports.

In the next part of the Energy Independence Series sponsored by Surge Battery Metals, we will explore how the U.S. can build an Energy-Independent Future by developing domestic raw material and battery supply chains.

Subscribe to Visual Capitalist
Click for Comments

You may also like

Subscribe

Continue Reading

Energy

Visualizing U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector

The U.S. emits about 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases a year. Here’s how these emissions rank by sector.

Published

on

The following content is sponsored by National Public Utilities Council.


Visualizing U.S. Emissions by Sector

Decarbonization efforts in the U.S. are ramping up, and in 2020, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were lower than at any point during the previous 30 years.

However there’s still work to be done before various organizations, states, and nationwide targets are met. And when looking at GHG emissions by sector, the data suggests that some groups have more work cut out for them than others.

This graphic from the National Public Utilities Council provides the key data and trends on the total emissions by U.S. sector since 1990.

The Highest Emitting Sectors

Collectively, the U.S. emitted 5,981 million metric tons (MMT) of CO2-equivalent (CO2e) emissions in 2020, which rose 6.1% in 2021.

Here’s how the various sectors in the U.S. compare.

Sector2020 GHG emissions, MMT CO2ePercentage of Total
Transportation1,627.627%
Electricity generation1,482.625%
Industry1,426.224%
Agriculture635.111%
Commercial425.37%
Residential362.06%
U.S. territories23.0<1%

The transportation sector ranks highest by emissions and has been notably impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is still affecting travel and supply chains. This has led to whipsawing figures during the last two years.

For instance, in 2020, the transportation sector’s emissions fell 15%, the steepest fall of any sector. But the largest increase in emissions in 2021 also came from transportation, which is largely credited to the economic and tourism recovery last year.

Following transportation, electricity generation accounted for a quarter of U.S. GHG emissions in 2020, with fossil fuel combustion making up nearly 99% of the sector’s emissions. The other 1% includes waste incineration and other power generation technologies like renewables and nuclear power, which produce emissions during the initial stages of raw material extraction and construction.

Decarbonizing the Power Sector

The Biden Administration has set a goal to make the U.S. power grid run on 100% clean energy by 2035—a key factor in achieving the country’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

Industrial factories, commercial buildings, and homes all consume electricity to power their machinery and appliances. Therefore, the power sector can help reduce their carbon footprint by supplying more clean electricity, although this largely depends on the availability of infrastructure for transmission.

Here’s how sectors would look if their respective electricity end-use is taken into account

SectorEmissions by Sector % of Total
Agriculture11%
Transportation27%
Industry30%
Residential & Commercial30%

Percentages may not add up to 100% due to independent rounding

With these adjustments, the industrial, commercial, and residential sectors experience a notable jump, and lead ahead of other categories

Today, the bulk of electricity generation, 60%, comes from natural gas and coal-fired power plants, with nuclear, renewables, and other sources making up 40% of the total.

Energy Source2020 Electric generation, billion kWhShare of total
Natural Gas1,57538.3%
Coal89921.8%
Nuclear77818.9%
Wind3809.2%
Hydropower2606.3%

However, progress and notable strides have been made towards sustainable energy. In 2021, renewables accounted for one-fifth of U.S. electricity generation, roughly doubling their share since 2010.

Coal’s share as a source of electric power has dropped dramatically in recent years. And partially as a result, electricity generation has seen its portion of emissions successfully decrease by 21% , with overall emissions falling from 1,880 million metric tons of CO2 to 1,482 million metric tons.

How Utilities Can Lead the Way

Should these trends persist, the electricity generation sector has a chance to play a pivotal role in the broader decarbonization initiative. And with the bulk of electricity generation in the U.S. coming from investor-owned utilities (IOUs), this is a unique opportunity for IOUs to lead the transition toward cleaner energy.

The National Public Utilities Council is the go-to resource to learn how utilities can lead in the path towards decarbonization.

Subscribe to Visual Capitalist
Click for Comments

You may also like

Subscribe

Continue Reading

Subscribe

Popular