Global patterns of energy supply, consumption and trade

Global patterns of energy supply, consumption and trade

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There is a marked energy gap between the rich and poor nations of the world.

  • Nearly a third of the worlds people - those living in low-income countries - have no electricity or other modern energy supplies and depends almost entirely on wood or other biomass for thier energy needs. The use of wood for fuel is usually damaging to the environment.
  • In more developed countries oil provides the bedrock for modern life. 90% of transport relies on oil products amd they are vital components in the pharmaceutical, chemical and food industries. The more developed countries consume around 75% of the total supply of the 3 major fossile fuels, although as China amd India industrilaise thier consumption will continue to increase rapidly.

The International Energy Agency predicts that the world will need almost 60% more energy in 2030 than in 2002, and that fossil fuels will still meet most of these needs. Although there is plenty of coal, it is not likely to grow in popularity because it is so polluting - so that leaves oil and gas. Oil industry experts predict that current reserves will only last for another 40 years or so and although gas supplies will last longer they are finite. However, if governements deliver on promisesto push cleaner and more efficient supplies, growth in demand could be restrained by about 10% according to the IEA .

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A report comissioned by the agency considered two scenarios:

  • business as usual - referred to in the report as the 'reference scenario', this projects how the world's energy mix would look in 2030 if current trends continue to be followed. The demand for fossil fuels, and thier related carbon emissions will grow by around 83%
  • alternative policies - this projects how the worlds energy mix would appear in 2030 if the package of policies and measures currently being considered by governements is adopted. This projected reduction in increased demand by 10% is the equivalent to China's total energy consumption and would result in a 16% cut in carbon emissions.
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The supply of non-renewable sources of energy

Globally, energy supplies are distributed unevenly. This means that energy sources are often long distances from the point of consumption. 250 years ago virtually everybody would have depended on the fuel they could find within a few kilometres from thier home. In the modern world, fuel often travels vast distances to reach its consumers. These distances create many problems linked with political instability in the middle east.

Fossil fuels, which provided foundations for industrial and economic development in more developed countries, are not present in great quantities in the least developed countries. Recoverable amounts of uranium, used in the production of nuclear energy, are also distributed unevenly.

  • It has been estimated that the very poorest countries in the world contain 14% of the worlds coal reserves, 5% of the oil reserves and 8% of the natural gas reserves
  • The middle-income countries, including many middle eastern states such as Iran and Iraq and other newly industrialising nations such as China, India and Brazil possess 45% of the world's coal reserves, 70% of oil reserves and 68% of nautral gas reserves
  • In total the developed world has fewer fossil fuels than the developing world (42% of the worlds coal, 25% of oil and 24% natural gas), but more than those countries in the low-income catergory. As in the developing world, however,most of these resources are concentrated in only a few countries.
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Most of the reserves in the world are in the middle east, which is why the region is so politically important. Saudi Arabi alone posses 25% of the worlds proved reserves. The North Sea and Canada still have substantial reserves, but would be expensive to extract.

No one really knows how long oil reserves will last, but even the oil industry suspects that the world peak is now approaching. It says that at the moment it has 40 years proven reserves left. However, it also said that 30 years ago. In fact the estimate has increased in recent years even as production has fallen. Cutting consumption would clearly preserve the oil supply.

The middle east is the biggest oil producer, currently providing nearly one-third of the worlds total. However, Eurasia (mainly Russia and the UK) and North America are also big producers. With the exception of Nigeria, Libya and Angola most African countries appear to possess limited oil reserves.

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Natural gas.

The world's reserves of natural gas, although finite, are enormous and are widely distributed around the globe. It is estimated that there are still significant amounts of natural gas undiscovered, but at current levels of production the known reserves will last between 60-70 years. Russia holds the worlds largest nautral gas reserves - 38% of the total. Together with countries like Iran that make up the middle east, which holds 35% of the worlds total, they account for 73% of natural gas reserves.

Natural gas is much cleaner fuel than oilas it produces virtually no sulphur dioxide and less than hald the carbon dioxide released by other fossil fuels. However, it is a volatile product and because of its flammable nature must be transported by pipeline or as expensive liquefied natural gas. Because of there transportation probelms, the main areas of production tend to be near to their markets.

At present the middle east supplies only a very small percentage of demand, although this is increasing more rapidly than elsewhere in the world. The largest producers in 2005 where the Russian Federation (22.5% of the world production) and the USA (22.9%).

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Coal resources are available in almost every country in the world, with recoverable resources in around 70 countries. At current production levels, proven coal reserves will last for at least 150years. After oil, coal is the 2nd most widely used energy resource. At present its use is falling in more developed countries but it rising in less developed countries and in countries such as China and India, which are experiencing rapid industrilaisation. In China and India coal is abundant and relatively cheap to mine, but much of the coal produced has a high suphur content so is hazardous to the environment and human health when burnt.

There are significant coal reserves in many developed countries, in particular the USA, Germany, Poland, Russia and Australia. The future of coal is difficult to predict, because cleaner ways of using it might be developed, such as coal gasification. As supplies of oil and gas decline, coal might well become the primary fossil fuel.

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Uranium is the major source of fuel for the nuclear power industry. Only 35 countries in the world possess Uranium reserves. The largest amounts are located in the industrialised nations of the USA, Canada and Australia (46% of total global reserves of uranium combined), with other major reserves in Niger, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Russia and South Africa. As worldwide demand for energy grows, greater use of nuclear power is considered an option by the International Energy Agency World Energy Outlook. It forecasts that the total global generation capacity of nuclear power plants could almost double by 2030. This would help many industrialised countries to reduce thier dependence on imported natural gas and would help to curb carbon dioxide emissions.

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