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Global Energy Demand and Emissions on the Rise

ENS) – Renewable energy will be the fastest growing source of power over the next 20 years, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). The bad news is that the combined share of the energy mix from solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable energy sites will rise to only 3% by 2020 from its current level of 2%.

Global energy demand will increase 57% over the next two decades, says the IEA in its biennial World Energy report, released yesterday at the climate change summit in the Netherlands. The result will be a 60% increase in the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Much of the increase in energy demand will be due to economic growth in the developing world, particularly China, and the IEA urges the use of fuel efficient vehicles and nuclear reactors to soften the impact, the IEA report forecasts.

Supplies of fossil fuels are considered "adequate" to meet global needs for the next 20 years, with oil continuing to be the most important source of energy and natural gas surpassing coal for the number two spot by 2010.

"This is a detailed portrait, warts and all, of how the energy world might develop from now till 2020,” says IEA executive director Robert Priddle. “It points to a number of serious challenges, but it also shows how some adverse trends could be changed.”

Past issues of the analysis were based on a "business as usual" scenario which projects established energy trends, but the "reference scenario" in this year’s Outlook goes beyond that approach to take into account the likely effect of policies and measures to combat climate change that have been adopted since 1997. It also offers, for the first time, a selection of "alternative cases," which trace what could happen if additional measures were taken.

The report assumes that the world economy will grow by three% a year, that fossil fuel prices remain flat till 2010 and then rise to $28 in today’s money by 2020. It is that assumption that increases overall energy demand by 57%, which is slightly lower than the rate of recent years.

Heat trapping emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide will swell by 2.1% each year, one third of them from the generation of electricity.

Coal, oil and natural gas will continue to provide 90% of the world’s primary energy, with petroleum meeting 40% of world needs, the agency forecasts. Nuclear generation of power will remain constant in absolute terms, but decline as a proportion of total energy supply as older reactors are retired.

The projected increase in greenhouse gas emissions predicts that North American emissions will be 42% higher than the Kyoto targets by 2010.

The gap would be 29% in the industrialized countries of the Pacific region and 18% in Western Europe.

“Those are sobering statistics,” says the IEA report. “They clearly make the case for more, and more decisive, action to avert unwanted climate change.”

One factor that could reduce emissions is the development of carbon trading credits under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism, which could result in a value of $32 for a ton of carbon dioxide (CO2).

If the transportation sector were to increase fuel efficiency, use alternative fuels and impose taxes on carbon emitting fuels, CO2 emissions could be stabilized after 2010, the IEA report predicts.

Switching from coal to natural gas for electricity generation could reduce that sector’s emissions by 1.7% in 2010, while extending the life of nuclear reactors could reduce another 2.3%.

The greatest positive impact would come from increased use of renewable energy, which could achieve a 3.2% reduction, while more cogeneration could drop emissions by one%.

“There are, however, economic or political obstacles to all these approaches,” the agency report warns. “Because of the long-term nature of the power sector, none of them can be put in place rapidly.”

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