The energy consumption sector accounts for total energy consumption over a range of different end uses, such as industrial, transport, residential, and commercial. The issue of energy consumption is a contentious one, due to its inextricable links to contentious issues such as pollution and emissions, climate change, and the environment, as well as issues related to usage of nuclear power and fossil fuels.
- An ongoing debate about nuclear power as a source of energy remains. Proponents argue that nuclear power is safe and sustainable, and one which reduces carbon emissions, while opponents argue threats such as environmental radioactivity. The nuclear incident at Fukushima has hardened many countries’ opinions against nuclear energy. Many electorates of nations remain against any further nuclear energy expansions, which exacerbates the issues for this heavily regulated industry. The consequences of public outcry will result either in more strict regulations for the industry, or even its cessation, with many countries refusing to ratify further extensions or expansions. In European countries such as the UK and Germany, recent state investment in renewables has managed to offset to some degree the decommissioning of nuclear generation capacity that was a response to the Fukushima power station disaster. However, in the US, there are 100 nuclear reactors in operation, many with the end of their original 40-year licenses in sight. This has raised issues regarding an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, as the US must find a way of replacing this carbon-free power and meeting climate objectives (in 2009 the White House put forward the objective of reducing greenhouse gas emission by 80% by 2050.)
- Fossil fuels are non-renewable energy sources that include coal, oil, and gas. There are concerns about the production emissions that have an adverse impact on the environment – i.e. sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury, linked to acid rain, smog and health issues, and coal also emits carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. However, fossil fuels are still used because they are useful, valuable, and enormously important geopolitically. Despite this, most governments are becoming more stringent on environmental issues, with many countries around the world agreeing to limit global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius, meaning that alternative fuels sources must be used instead of fossil fuels.
- Power generation companies, or energy utilities, are increasingly developing and investing in sustainable energy. Electricity generated from renewable energy sources, such as wind and hydro power, is increasingly replacing other energy segments, in particular, conventional thermal energy supply from coal and gas. The causes of this trend nearly all stem from governmental intervention: from huge subsidies to tax breaks, governments around the world are pushing a trend which looks to become a permanent feature of the industry as the supply of conventional, non-sustainable energy diminishes.
- In the global energy consumption sector, volume growth has decelerated over recent years, a trend which can be seen in different regions around the world. The Asia-Pacific region, for example, has seen growth of 6.2% in 2010 decelerate over the years to 1.9% in 2013. In Europe, energy consumption was marginal in 2011 and in decline in 2012 and 2013. This is because, despite population rises, due to an increase in prices, a greater inclination to reduce unnecessary fuel use, and the impact of energy efficiency regulations, among other things. In other regions, however, there are many people who do not have access to electricity. These places should expect to see increasing consumption due to infrastructure advances.
The use of different sources of energy differs dramatically between regions. Globally, oil and oil products account for nearly 40% of energy consumption, while coal and goal gases, natural gas, and biofuels and waste (including nuclear) all account for around 10-15% of consumption. In the US and Europe, the use of coal and coal gases and biofuels and waste are low; around 1-5%. In Asia-Pacific, however, coal and coal gases account for 23% of consumption, and biofuels and waste account for 14.2%.
August 2014: Activists on the German-Polish border protesting against plans to expand open-pit coal mines
The make-up of the energy consumption sector looks set to change drastically as increasing pressures are put on energy companies to reduce their use of coal, gas, and oil. Strict government targets will see a surge in renewable energy consumption. The American Council for Renewable Energy is pushing a target of 50% of energy consumed as renewable by 2050, the European Union has set a goal of 50% renewables by 2040.
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