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Key trends of global electricity balance in 2012

July 31, 2013
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Composed by Galina Vitkova

Dear friend of Technical English,

Find below a technical text on power engineering that concerns key trends of 2012 global energy balance. The text is composed using excerpts from the Enerdata press release of 30 May 2013 in Grenoble. Enerdata is an independent Research & Consulting firm specialized in the global energy industry and carbon market since 1991. Enjoy the text and think about the future of global energy development. Your comments are welcome.

Key trends of 2012 global energy balance

Following annual analysis of world energy demand in 2012 Enerdata published the report concerning key trends of 2012 global energy balance for G20 countries.

The analysis confirms several ongoing trends initiated during previous years. According to it the most remarkable trends are the growing weight of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) in the global energy balance and the significant changes within the mix power sources of electricity production.

BRICS growing weight in the world energy demand

With a view to quasi-stagnation of the global energy consumption (+1%), and improving energy intensity (-1.7%), the accelerating share of the BRICS in the world energy balance is one of the key highlights of 2012 energy balance.

English: BRICS counties. BRICS - Brazil, Russi...

In fact, energy demand of the BRICS increased by 3.7% despite a lasting decrease in consumption growth in China (4% in comparison with 8% in 2011). As to electricity demand, the BRICS catch up to the G7 level and represent 6 800 TWh.

Opposite directions of using gas and coal in the USA and Europe

Strong alterations in using gas and coal are observed in the USA and in Europe. The development of unconventional gas in the USA has extremely reduced the usage of coal in favor of gas for electricity generation in this country. As a result the surplus US coal is exported at very competitive prices, which leads European power plants to substitute gas by coal. This change in the mix primary power sources is particularly intense in the United Kingdom (the share of coal increased from 30% to 40% in the mix primary sources) and in Italy (the gas reduced from 48% to 42% of the mix). It also concerns Germany, where coal became already the major fuel (increase to 47% in the mix) – see Energy policy of Germany after Fukushima.

Weight of the BRICS and coal increase in Europe augment CO₂ emissions

At the global level, these trends result in an increase in CO₂ emissions (+1.4%) higher than the energy demand (+1%). It occurs mainly due to the prevailing use of coal in the mix power sources by the BRICS, enhanced by their growing influence in energy demand trends. Moreover, the escalating use of coal in the EU cancels out the rising share of renewables in the mix power sources. These two phenomena are more decisive than the reduction of CO₂ emissions in the United States due to the accelerated displacement of coal by gas. Furthermore, the almost total shutdown of nuclear power in Japan and its substitution by fossil energy sources also contributed to the increase in emissions (+5.7% despite a decline in energy consumption by 3%).


Foreseeing energy demands?

The rapid evolution of gas / coal share in the electricity production calls for caution concerning the sustainability of the recent trends. At least the year 2012 confirms the high responsiveness of power producers to generate electricity at the lowest cost. In any case coal continues to dominate the global mix power sources. Up to now 42% share in world electricity production pertains to coal and lignite.

 Highest ten electricity producers in year 2012

Country Produced  TWh Number of inhabitants
China 4 926 1 338 612 968
United States 4 295 307 212 123
India 1 087 1 156 897 766
Russia 1 064 140 041 247
Japan 1 057 127 078 679
Canada 646 33 487 208
Germany 623 82 329 758
Brazil 561 198 739 269
France 559 62 150 775
South Korea 526 48 508 972


BRICS – includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa

energy intensityis calculated by dividing the total energy consumption of a country by its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It measures the total amount of energy necessary to generate one unit of GDP. Total energy consumption includes coal, gas, oil, electricity, heat and biomass. (See for more details Glossary at http://yearbook.enerdata.net/)

TWh – terawatt hour, billion watt hour

PS: When studying the technical text, use if necessary 

TrainTE Vocabulary and Technical English Vocabulary–power engineering.





Intermittence of renewables

June 30, 2011

Composed by Galina Vitkova

Everybody knows that renewables are expensive, sometimes very expensive and make electricity price go up. For example, in the Czech Republic the expansion of building solar photovoltaic installations, donated from the state budget, caused increasing electricity price over 12 %. Another example of increasing the costs is given in the table below.

Increase in system operation costs (Euros per MW·h) for 10% and 20% wind share[7]



















Nevertheless, only few people are aware of great intermittence of renewables, which excludes their usage as a main source of electricity generation not only nowadays, but in the future too. Actually no technical and industrial society can exist and develop using unreliable and intermittent power supplies. Nothing in our integrated and automated world works without electricity, this life-blood of technical civilisation. Just imagine what would happen to a society where electricity supply is turned off only for a short time, possibly every week, or if the power is cut for a whole fortnight or more. Life stops, production ceases, chaos sets in. And this is exactly what could arise if we bank on renewables. Thus let us take notice of features specific for wind and solar (photovoltaic) power installations, which are typically built in Europe. 

A straight line projection from where we are t...

Image via Wikipedia

The entire problem with renewables is that they are perilously intermittent power sources. The electricity produced using them is not harmonized with the electrical demand cycle. Renewable based installations generate electricity when the wind blows or the sun shines. Since the energy produced earlier in the day cannot be stored extra generating capacity will have to be brought on-line to cover the deficiency. This means that for every renewable based system installed, a conventional power station will have to be either built or retained to ensure continuity of energy supply. But this power station will have to be up and running all the time (i.e. to be a ’spinning-reserve’) because it takes up to 12 hours to put a power station on-line from a cold start-up. Thusly if we want to keep up continuity of supply the renewable sources result in twice the cost and save very little of fossil fuels.

Wind power is extremely variable. Building thousands of wind turbines still does not resolve the fundamental problem of the enormous wind variability. When days without significant winds occur, it doesn’t matter how many wind turbines are installed as they all go off-line. So, it is extremely difficult to integrate wind power stations into a normal generating grid.  

Solar energy is not available at night and cloudy days, which makes energy storage the most important issue in providing the continuous availability of energy. Off-grid photovoltaic systems traditionally use rechargeable batteries to store excess electricity. With grid-tied systems excess electricity can be sent to the transmission grid and later be settled.

Renewable energy supporters declare that renewable power can somehow be stored to cope with power outages. The first of these energy storage facilities, which comes to aid the thousands of wind-turbines motionless when winds do not blow and solar installations without generating when the sun does not shine, is the pumped water storage system. However, this claim is not well-founded for the following reasons:

  • In most countries of Europe pumped storage systems are already fully used for overpowering variability in electrical demand, and so as a rule they have no extra capacity for overcoming variability in supply due to the unreliable wind and solar generation systems.
  • Pumped storage systems have limited capacity, which can be used for electricity generating  for just a few hours, while wind or solar generation systems can go off-line for days or weeks at a time.
  • Pumped storage systems are not only hugely expensive to construct, the topography of european countries ensure that very few sites are available.

As for flywheel energy storage, compressed air storage, battery storage and hydrogen storage each of these systems is highly complicated, very expensive, hugely inefficient and limited in capacity. The hydrogen storage is especially popular and hyped among proponents of renewables. The hydrogen, produced and stored when renewables generate more electricity than it could be used, is supposed to propel vehicles and generators. Unfortunately these hydrogen powered vehicles and generators are only about 5% efficient. In addition, hydrogen storage vessels are highly flammable and potentially explosive. Practically nowadays there is no energy system available that can remotely be expected to replace renewable energy resources in a large scale, while they are out of functioning.

In numerous publications about renewables we are chiefly informed about expanding and increasing investments in renewables, multiplying their installed capacity and volumes of produced electricity, everything in absolute values, without comparing these indicators with values of other resources, especially when they speak about volumes of production. In the table below you find comparable values of volumes electricity produced by nuclear power plants and renewable installations. Look it through and have your own opinion of the problem.

Comparison of nuclear and renewable electricity producing by top nuclear electricity producers (TW·h-year/% of total electricity production in the country)




Nuclear  2007

Wind Power

Solar Power

1 USA 2009




2 Japan 2008




3 Russia 2008




4 Germany 2010




5 Canada 2008




Conclusion: Common people must know and must interest about situation in producing and supplying electricity. Only then they will be able to enforce on the governments to make rightdecisions in order to ensure stable supplying electricity, without which modern civilisation cannot exist and improve.


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