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EIA Projects Renewables Will be “Most Used” Energy Source in 2050—but …

“With the rapid growth of electricity generation, renewables—including solar, wind, and hydroelectric power—are the fastest-growing energy source between 2018 and 2050, surpassing petroleum and other liquids to become the most used energy source in the Reference case,” the U.S. Energy Information Administration concludes in its newly released International Energy Outlook 2019. So, does that mean the world is rapidly phasing out fossil fuels? No.

In EIA’s reference case, renewables’ share of global primary energy increases from 15 percent in 2018 to 28 percent in 2050. In contrast, the global shares of oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear decline from 32 percent, 22 percent, 26 percent, and 5 percent respectively, in 2018, to 27 percent, 22 percent, 20 percent, and 4 percent respectively, in 2050. However, that means fossil fuels account for 69 percent of global primary energy consumption in 2050. That’s down from 83 percent in 2018. Nonetheless, the projected share of fossil fuels in 2050 is still nearly 2.5 times larger than that of renewables.

Moreover, although the relative shares of fossil fuels decline in EIA’s forecast, in absolute terms coal consumption holds relatively steady while gas and oil consumption increase. That is because total world energy consumption grows by almost 50 percent between 2018 and 2050.

Most of the growth is concentrated in developing countries, especially in Asia. Global energy consumption is expected to grow substantially in all sectors: industrial (30 percent), transportation (40 percent), buildings (65 percent), and electric generation (79 percent).

In the reference case, “Worldwide renewable energy consumption increases by 3.1 percent per year between 2018 and 2050, compared with 0.6 percent annual growth in petroleum and other liquids, 0.4 percent growth in coal, and 1.1 percent annual growth in natural gas consumption.” So, although all renewables combined provide a larger share of global energy than oil does in 2050, the quantity of oil consumed increases by 20 percent. Moreover, the quantity of natural gas consumed increases by 40 percent while the quantity of coal consumed remains relatively stable.