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This blog is expressly directed to readers who do not have strong training or backgrounds in science, with the intent of helping them grasp the underpinnings of this important issue. I'm going to present an ongoing series of posts that will develop various aspects of the science of global warming, its causes and possible methods for minimizing its advance and overcoming at least partially its detrimental effects.

Each post will begin with a capsule summary. It will then proceed with captioned sections to amplify and justify the statements and conclusions of the summary. I'll present images and tables where helpful to develop a point, since "a picture is worth a thousand words".

Thursday, September 22, 2011

International Energy Outlook 2011: A Report by the U. S. Energy Information Agency

Summary.  The U. S. Energy Information Agency issued its International Energy Outlook 2011 on Sept. 19, 2011.  The report forecasts worldwide energy usage from 2008 through 2035 assuming no regulatory limits on burning of fossil fuels.  The report envisions an increase in overall energy usage that grows year by year, and is 53% higher in 2035 than in 2008.  Much of that increase arises in China, India and other developing countries.  In 2035 80% of energy needs are furnished by burning fossil fuels.  The development of renewable energy grows to about 14% of the total in 2035.  Because of the pronounced increase in use of fossil fuels, the annual rate of emission of carbon dioxide also grows dramatically during this period.

This post concludes that the high rate of emissions of carbon dioxide envisioned by the report in the absence of regulations has to be minimized in order to limit the worsening of global warming and its attendant harms to the planet.  The nations, corporations and citizens of the world should come together and agree to a new environmental accord to follow the expiring Kyoto Protocol.


The U. S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) issued its report, International Energy Outlook 2011 (designated IEO 2011 here), on Sept. 19, 2011.  The report presents historical worldwide energy usage data to 2008 and forecasts worldwide energy usage from 2008 through 2035.  (An earlier review for the U. S. only, EIA’s Early Release Overview of the Annual Energy Outlook 2011, was issued in December 2010.  It was reported in this post.  A similar worldwide review was issued by the International Energy Agency in 2010.)
IEO 2011 presents a Reference case forecast, which assumes that no new national or international regulations govern energy use beyond those in place in 2011.

This post summarizes selected aspects of IEO 2011, and presents graphics in the Details section following the Discussion and Conclusions section that illustrate the summarized data.  IEO 2011 frequently divides the world into countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD; United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile, most European countries, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand), and non-OECD countries, including China, India, Russia, Brazil, the Middle East and Africa.

World Energy Use 2008-2035.

World Overview.  IEO 2011 envisions an overall increase of 53% in yearly world energy usage in 2035, based on the usage in 2008 (see Details, Figure 1), with half of that increase originating in China and India.  Their annual energy use more than doubles in this period.  The increase is from 505 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in 2008 to 770 quadrillion Btu in 2035 (quadrillion =1015, or 1,000 trillion; 1 Btu is the amount of energy needed to heat 1 pound of water by 1ºF, about 1,055 joules).  Predicted energy consumption by non-OECD countries increases by 85%, whereas OECD nations use only 18% more energy in this time period (see Details, Figure 2).

The annual rates of usage of all classes of fuel and energy supply grow significantly between 2008 and 2035 (see Details, Figure 3).  As the overall use of energy expands, the demand for energy is met primarily by fossil fuels, which are expected to provide almost 80% of the world’s energy in 2035, under the Reference case.  Fossil fuels include petroleum, natural gas and coal.  The share of energy for all uses provided by liquid fuels such as petroleum and renewable biofuels remains the largest, yet declines from 34% in 2008 to 29% by 2035.  Its relative consumption is predicted to be reduced due to high prices in future years.  This economic pressure will expand the modest use of renewable biofuels.

Coal.  Worldwide, coal is the second largest provider of energy during this period.  The use of coal surged in the years just prior to 2008; much of this was due to a major expansion in construction of new coal-burning electric plants in China during this period (see this earlier post).  China’s 12th Five Year Plan for 2011-2015 envisions continued active construction of new coal plants.  China intends to add 260 GW of coal-fired electric generation during the 12th Five Year Plan.  IEO 2011 foresees that three quarters of the world’s increase in coal-fired generation from 2008 to 2035 occurs in China, more than doubling its electricity generated. For the entire world, the growth in burning of coal is 1.5% per year, increasing from 139 quadrillion Btu in 2008 to 209 quadrillion Btu in 2035.

Use of natural gas for energy is predicted to grow steadily during the period considered.  Natural gas is obtained both from conventional gas fields and increasingly from nonconventional sources such as gas-laden mineral deposits and methane gas (natural gas) from coalbeds.  The proportion of energy provided by natural gas is foreseen remaining constant at 23% between 2008 and 2035.

Generation of electricity relies on fuels, including renewable fuels, and non-fuel energy sources (nuclear, hydropower, wind and solar power).  IEO 2011 estimates that worldwide annual electrical energy generated increases 84% from 2008 to 2035 (see Details, Figure 4).  This increase is fueled by large increases in use of coal (as already discussed above) and natural gas, among fossil fuels, and by significant percentage increases in the non-fossil fuel sources hydropower and renewable energy.  China intends to add significant new hydroelectric and wind energy capacity during its 12th Five Year Plan.

IEO 2011 foresees the rate of growth of renewable energy (excluding renewable biofuels) expanding considerably over the period.  The share provided by renewable energy grows from 10% in 2008 to 14% in 2035.  For example, in China’s 12th Five Year Plan, it is expected that renewables will increase from about 1% of total capacity in 2010 to about 3% of total capacity in 2015.  In the U. S., renewable electric power generating capacity originating from all sources of renewable energy is predicted to more than double from 2009 to 2035 (U. S. EIA, Annual Energy Outlook 2011).

IEO 2011 predicts that the factors leading to increased energy usage include high rates of increase in GDP per capita (GDP = gross domestic [economic] product, a measure of activities that require use of energy) for countries such as China, India, Brazil, Russia and South Korea; relatively high rates of increase of population in regions such as Africa, the Middle East, India and the U. S.; these factors are countered by improvements in energy intensity (the amount of energy needed to produce a unit of GDP value) in many regions and countries.

The worldwide annual rate of emitting carbon dioxide (CO2) increases 43% between 2008 and 2035 under the Reference case (see Details, Figure 5). In 2035 the rate of emission is 43.2 billion metric tons (1 metric ton = 1.1 U. S. ton) while in 2008 the rate was 30 billion metric tons. The sections above have detailed the profound increase in use of fossil fuels in supplying the world’s energy demand in the coming decades.  Since burning fossil fuels produces emissions of CO2, the large increase in the annual rate of emission comes as no surprise. According to IEO 2011, coal is the fossil fuel that is the principal source of carbon dioxide emissions during the projected interval 2008-2035.
Annual emissions from OECD countries grow modestly in this period, while the annual emissions rate for Asian non-OECD countries (this includes China and India) almost doubles from 10 billion metric tons in 2008 to almost 20 metric tons in 2035.

Discussion and Conclusions

IEO 2011 predicts major increases in use of fossil fuels with the attendant increases in emissions of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas.  If these fossil fuels were not burned, the corresponding emissions of CO2would not occur.  It is estimated that about 45% of emitted CO2 remains in the atmosphere contributing to the greenhouse effect.  (The remainder is absorbed by the oceans, land masses, and any net increase in fixing CO2 by photosynthetic plants, among other processes.)  This makes it incontrovertible that man-made emissions of CO2 increase its atmospheric concentration, worsening the greenhouse effect. 

The greenhouse effect increases the long-term global average temperature as the atmospheric concentration of CO2 increases, as shown in the graphic below.  The fact that the two trends can be superimposed is very strong evidence that the temperature

Superposition of global long-term average temperatures (jagged blue line), CO2 measured from air bubbles isolated from frozen ice cores (red line), and CO2 measured directly in the air at the high-altitude station on Mauna Loa, Hawaii (yellow line). 

increase arises because of the increased atmospheric concentration of CO2.  The continued release of CO2 in future decades, and the fact that the amounts added to the atmosphere each year will add to the CO2 already present from previous years, indicate that very high atmospheric concentrations of CO2 will accumulate by 2035 in the Reference case.  These concentrations will make global warming much worse, and lead to significant adverse effects on weather patterns, food supplies, and human wellbeing.  Recent posts on this blog have detailed the significant economic and societal damages arising from global warming in recent years.

The graphic above illustrates the accumulation of excess CO2 in the atmosphere with each passing year.  This is because the CO2 remaining in the atmosphere (after processes such as absorption into the ocean have had their effect) has nowhere else to go.  It is estimated that the lifetime of CO2 added to the atmosphere is at least 100 years.  Thus the only way to prevent the CO2 in the atmosphere from increasing is to cease burning fossil fuels as soon as technically possible. 

Imagine that the atmosphere is like a bathtub containing CO2.  The faucet adds more CO2 to the bathtub as we burn fossil fuels, but the drain is essentially closed (after absorption of CO2 by the ocean).  CO2 accumulates in the bathtub and fills it higher and higher as long as the CO2 faucet keeps running.  The CO2 level in the bathtub is stabilized (but not lowered) only if the faucet is turned off.  It is not sufficient merely to decrease the rate of adding CO2 to our atmospheric bathtub; that only slows the rise of the CO2 level. 

IEO 2011 describes significant expansions in use of fossil fuels; these necessarily rely on new and existing physical facilities that utilize them.  Typically these facilities have long service lifetimes; they include new homes and offices, new cars and trucks, and new fossil fuel-burning electric plants.  Once put in service, these facilities necessarily will continue burning the fossil fuels they were designed to use, and will continue emitting CO2, for decades, until removed from service.  Davis and coworkers showed that even if no new facilities for using fossil fuels were built starting “today”, those already in place would contribute to adding more CO2 to the atmosphere, worsening global warming as a result.

The Kyoto Protocol negotiated under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change set forth emission reduction goals for its signatory states.  Unfortunately, today’s major emitters of CO2, the United States, China and India, do not participate in Kyoto.  Furthermore, Kyoto extends only to 2012 and requires extension and agreement by the world’s nations.

China has acted in the past to expand its energy supply largely by means of fossil fuel-driven energy.  Its 12th Five Year Plan continues this trend, signaling the building of many new coal-fired electric generation plants.  Its policy is rather to increase its energy efficiency by lowering its energy intensity, i.e., the amount of energy needed to produce a unit of economic product or service.  This goal does not directly address absolute reductions of CO2 emissions which, in fact, continue to grow.

The U. S. does not have an energy policy in place at the national level.  Several states have joined one of three regional greenhouse gas accords.  These have set out goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions of varying degrees of stringency.  The state of California, while subscribing to one of these accords, is also proceeding with its own stringent emission reduction program.

The European Union has set in place an ambitious program to reduce emissions by at least 80% by 2050.

IEO 2011 made its projections using a Reference case in which it was assumed that no emission reduction programs would be put in place after 2011.  The increasing rates of use of fossil fuels, and the increasing emissions of CO2 resulting from these activities, clearly will worsen the effects of global warming in coming decades.  In order to minimize these effects, the nations of the world, corporations acting independently of government programs, and individual citizens should come together to implement meaningful emissions reduction programs as soon as possible.  


Annual usage of energy in all forms for certain years between 1990 and 2035.  The horizontal spacing of the bars is not linear; the interval at the left is 10 years, while the interval after 2015 is every 5 years. 
Source: U. S. EIA International Energy Outlook 2011

Figure 2.

Annual consumption of all forms of energy for OECD and non-OECD countries.
Source: U. S. EIA International Energy Outlook 2011 Presentation

Figure 3.

Annual consumption of energy provided by various sources of fuel or energy.
Source: U. S. EIA International Energy Outlook 2011 Presentation

Liquids include petroleum and unconventional fuel liquids originating from oil sands and bitumen, and biofuels.  Production of each of these two categories increases from about 1.5 million barrels per day in 2008 to an estimate of about 4.8 million barrels per day in 2035.  Production of oil sands and bitumen occurs primarily in Alberta, Canada.

Figure 4.

Sources of fuel or energy used to generate electricity.  Historical data up to 2008, projected generation after 2008 to 2035.  “Liquids” includes renewable biofuels; “Other renewables” includes wind and solar power.
Source: U. S. EIA International Energy Outlook 2011 Presentation

Figure 5.

Annual rates of emission worldwide of carbon dioxide, grouped by the fossil fuels that are burned as the energy source.
Source: U. S. EIA International Energy Outlook 2011 Presentation

© 2011 Henry Auer

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