Energy Transition

This is the state of world's energy - in charts

Powering up ... more energy was consumed in 2021 than in the year before the pandemic.

Powering up ... more energy was consumed in 2021 than in the year before the pandemic. Image: Unsplash/Red Dot

Simon Read
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Energy Transition

This article is part of: Centre for Energy and Materials

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  • Energy demand quickly returned to pre-pandemic levels as global economies emerged from lockdown, according to analysis from BP.
  • The drop in energy use during 2020 does not show much sign of helping the world reach climate goals – with emissions rising too.
  • Emerging economies fuelled the rise in demand worldwide.
  • Renewable energy is capturing a larger share of the market, but is still a long way behind fossil fuels.

People and businesses around the world used more power in 2021 than in the year before the pandemic, as lockdowns ended and energy demand bounced back, according to an analysis from BP.

The surge in demand is the largest in history and has helped to propel the energy system into its most turbulent period since the oil crisis of the 1970s. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has added to the turmoil, fuelling price hikes and threatening power shortages for some countries.

BP says emissions from energy have also rebounded to pre-pandemic levels. “Considerable progress has been made in sovereign pledges to achieve net zero, but those growing ambitions have yet to translate into tangible progress on the ground… The world remains on an unsustainable path,” says the company’s chief economist, Spencer Dale.

These charts illustrate the urgency in finding secure and affordable energy, while also tackling the climate crisis:

Graph showing change in primary energy fuel and by geography.
Global energy demand is higher than pre-pandemic levels. Image: BP

Primary energy use soared in 2021 – up by nearly 6% and more than reversing the steep drop seen during the 2020 lockdowns

BP says this was “entirely driven” by renewable energy sources between 2019 and 2021 with the level of fossil fuel consumption unchanged. Overall, energy use is estimated to be more than 1% higher than in 2019.

Surprisingly, the biggest increases in energy consumption were primarily seen in emerging economies, according to BP’s research. Countries like China and India set the pace as their economies bounced back from COVID-19 lockdowns. Energy demand in developed economies was actually lower in 2021 than 2019.

Bar chart showing the increase of carbon emissions, energy and mineral prices.
Higher carbon emissions go hand in hand with economic growth. Image: BP

Here’s the bad news: the big dip in carbon emissions during the lockdowns of 2020 has been cancelled out

When economies came back to life, emissions went up and BP’s sobering conclusion is that if you take the pandemic into account, emissions were “broadly unchanged” for the past two years.

Graphs showing oil demand and the share of renewables in global power generation.
On the plus side, use of renewable technologies continues to grow. Image: BP

There is better news on renewable energy – particularly wind and solar power

The use of these technologies continued to grow and in 2021 accounted for 13% of global power generation. Renewable energy increased by almost 17% in 2021, and for the past two years it has accounted for more than half of the increase in global power generation.

“The low-carbon energy sources and technologies needed to achieve a fast and deep decarbonization exist today… The challenge is to apply them at unprecedented pace and scale,” says Dale.

But there is a long way to go.

Graphs showing world consumption and shares of global primary energy.
Fossil fuels still dominate the energy market. Image: BP

While renewable energy’s share of the global market is on the up – use of coal and gas remain much higher.

That needs to change fast according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC’s experts warned in April 2022 that unless countries accelerate their switch to renewable energy, the prize of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) could be out of reach by the end of the decade.


What's the World Economic Forum doing about the transition to clean energy?

Although fossil fuels still dominate the market, BP says oil consumption remained below pre-pandemic levels in 2021, with demand for aviation fuel a massive 33% down on the figure for 2019.

Bar chart showing Russian share of gas, coal consumption and oil imports.
Almost 40% of EU natural gas consumption came from Russia in 2021. Image: BP

Our final chart from the BP report highlights the European Union's dependence on Russian fossil fuels

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, this is a huge barrier to the bloc’s energy security. Imports from Russia accounted for almost 40% of EU natural gas consumption in 2021, a quarter of its imported oil and 20% of its coal.

Russian energy is a habit the EU will struggle to break. Despite the conflict and sanctions, Russian revenues from fossil fuel exports to the EU soared to $43 billion in the first two months after the invasion, CNN reported.

The EU’s goal of ending its reliance on Russian energy could involve accelerating the transition to renewable power sources. But building up solar, wind and other technologies won’t come without costs, and meeting those in the face of a global energy crisis might prove to be a tall order.

“Industrial sectors account for nearly 40% of global energy consumption and more than 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The transformation of these sectors is pivotal to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050,” the World Economic Forum says in its NetZero Industry Tracker 2022. The report sets out a framework for monitoring the progress of industries and sectors as they work towards global climate goals.

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Energy TransitionClimate Change
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