Feature Report: The Energy Mix and Energy Transition

3 items of content in this feature report



About the Energy Mix

To meet its energy needs, each country uses the types of energy available to it, in differing proportions. This is what we call the energy mix. While the figures vary significantly from one country to another, fossil fuels dominate the energy mix at the global level, accounting for over 80% of the total.

fr - mix energetique
Thermal power plants, solar farms and wind turbines — wide variety in the energy mix. © THINKSTOCK

The term “energy mixThe range of energy sources of a region. ” refers to the combination of the various primary energyAll energy sources that have not undergone any conversion process and remain in their natural state.. sources used to meet energy needs in a given geographic region. It includes fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coalCoal is ranked by its degree of transformation or maturity, increasing in carbon content from... ), nuclear energyEnergy produced in nuclear power plants. The enormous amount of heat released during fission of uranium atom nuclei is transferred to water... , non-renewable waste and the many sources of renewable energyEnergy sources that are naturally replenished so quickly that they can be considered inexhaustible on a human time scale... (wood, biofuelA fuel produced from plant or animal matter. There are currently two types of biofuel... , hydro, wind, solar, geothermalDescribes the technology used to tap subsurface heat to produce energy... , heatIn the field of statistical thermodynamics today, heat refers to the transfer of the thermal agitation of the particles making up matter... from heat pumps, renewable waste and biogasA product of the methanation (anaerobic digestion) of organic waste... ). These primary energy sources are used, for example, for generating powerIn physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output... , providing fuelFuel is any solid, liquid or gaseous substance or material that can be combined with an oxidant... for transportation and heating and cooling residential and industrial buildings.

For each region or country, the composition of the energy mix depends on:

  • The availability of usable resources domestically or the possibility of importing them.
  • The extent and type of energy needs to be met.
  • Policy choices determined by historical, economic, social, demographic, environmental and geopolitical factors. 

These differences can be appreciated by taking a look at the production and consumption figures for individual countries (See Featured Figures : "Producers and Consumers")

Examples of Energy Mixes

The influence of these factors causes the energy mix to vary widely from one country to another. For example:

  • France’s energy mix in 2015 was made up of 42.5% nuclear power, 30.6% oil, 14.2% natural gas, 3.3% coal and 9.4% renewable energies and waste. Among the renewable primary energy sources, wood was still the most widely used in France, at 3.8% of the energy mix, ahead of hydro, at around 2%. Wind represented 0.7% of the mix, while solar energy made up 0.3%1.
  • The United States’ energy mix includes more oil (37% of the mix), natural gas (29%) and coal (15%), and much less nuclear energy (9%).
  • China relies heavily on coal for its development. The resource currently accounts for 64% of the domestic energy mix, but there are plans to scale it back to less than 58% by 2020. Renewable energies represent 11%, and are targeted to reach 15% by 2020. Nuclear energy, while expanding rapidly, still only makes up 1% of the total.

It should be noted that the primary energy mix figures do not match final energy consumption figures. This is because a fairly significant portion of primary energy is lost in conversion processes to generate secondary energySecondary energy is energy produced by converting so-called primary energy, or energy available in its natural state in the environment... . France, for example, has primary energy consumption of 260 billion metric ton of oil equivalent (toe)Unit of energy measurement corresponding to the energy produced by the combustion of a ton of oil... (toe) but final energy consumption of only 162 billion toe. This huge loss is due almost entirely to nuclear power generation, where a large proportion of the energy produced escapes into the atmosphere in the form of heat. Final consumption reflects demand for refined petroleum products, natural gas, electricityForm of energy resulting from the movement of charged particles (electrons) through a conductor... and heat. In France, final consumption in 2015 corresponded to 45% refined petroleum products, 23% electricity, 19% natural gas and 9% heat.

Energy Mix Versus Power Generation Mix

The energy mix should also not be confused with the power generation mix, which is the percentage of different energy sources (fossil fuels, nuclear, hydro and other renewable energies) used to generate electricity. For this reason, it does not take into account issues surrounding energy use in transportation and large sectors of industry and housing.

In 2015, the power generation mix2 in France broke down as follows:

  • Nuclear: 72.4%
  • Hydropower: 12%
  • Renewable energy (excluding hydropower): 6.9%
  • Fossil fuels (mainly gas): 8.6%

81%, the share of fossil fuels in the global energy mix in 2014

The power generation mix also varies significantly from one country to another.

At 67.8%, the share of fossil fuels in the power generation mix in the U.S. is eight times higher than in France, whereas the share of nuclear energy is four times lower, at 19.4%.

In the United States, the share of coal in electricity production fell sharply from 50% in 2004 to 33% in 2015 as a result of increased shale gasShale gas is found in deeply buried clayey sedimentary rock that is both the source rock and the reservoir for the gas... production. The resource may, however, gain back ground due to President Trump’s less restrictive coal policies. The development of unconventional hydrocarbonOrganic compound consisting of carbon and hydrogen. Hydrocarbons are the principal constituents of crude oil, natural gas and petroleum products. resources is aligned with Washington’s desire to achieve energy independenceThe ability of a country or region to meet all its energy needs without having to import primary or final energy. from oil and gas producing countries.

For a similar reason, France embarked on a major energy transition after the 1973 oil crisis, electing to invest heavily in nuclear power since it lacked easily developed oil and gas reserves.

Nuclear power represents almost three-quarters of the French power generation mix, but only 40 to 45% of the energy mix.

A Global Energy Mix Dominated by Fossil Fuels

Since the Industrial Revolution, development has been largely driven by fossil fuels. In 2014, the world primary energy mix included 31.3% oil, 28.6% coal – which predominates in global power generation – and 21.2% natural gas. Nuclear energy represented 4.8%, while renewables and waste contributed 14.1%. The proportion of renewables in the mix has remained virtually flat over the last forty years, at around 14%, as their production has increased broadly in step with overall production3.

Over the last few decades, population growth and rapid expansion in countries such as India, China and Brazil have increased energy demand, despite a few dips due to oil crises and the economic recession in 2009. As a result, consumption rose from 10 billion toe to 13.7 billion toe between 2000 and 2014.



(1) French Ministry of the Environment, 2016 key energy figures (in French only)

(2) RTE, 2016 annual electricity report (in French only)

(3) IEA 2016 Key World Energy Statistics