Feature Report: The Energy Mix and Energy Transition

3 items of content in this feature report

Exploring

Close-up

What Is 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.

Mix energetique - centrale gaz
A power plant at dusk

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... 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 and other bioenergies, hydro, wind, solar and geothermalDescribes the technology used to tap subsurface heat to produce energy... ). 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.

The composition of the energy mix varies greatly from one country or region to the next and can change significantly depending on the period.

Variables include:

  • 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. 

 

85%, The share of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) in the global energy mix in 2018.

A Global Energy Mix Dominated by Fossil Fuels

These differences can be seen by comparing the global, European and French energy mixes, for example. See Featured Figures: “Primary Energy Consumption in 2018”.

Since the Industrial Revolution, society’s development has been largely driven by fossil fuels. Globally, the cumulative share of coal, oil and gas in the energy mix in 2018 was close to 85%, with hydro (6.8%), other renewables (4%) and nuclear (4.4%) trailing far behind.

In Europe, renewable energies (15.5%) and nuclear (10.3%) are more developed, but fossil fuels remain the dominant energy source (74.2%). See Feature Report: “Tables Summing Up Energy in Europe”. 

Looking at only France, the breakdown shows a completely different picture due to the strong presence of nuclear (38.5%). The proportion of renewables is below the European average at 10.4%, while coal makes up a negligible 3.4% of the total1.

 

Did You Know?
The energy mix refers to the various primary energy sources used in a given geographic region.

China, India and the United States

In China and India, coal represents almost 60% of the energy mix. Both countries are leading major drives to develop solar and wind power, but the needs of their rapidly growing economies mean that the share of these renewable energies remains low. For the same reason, they are also having great difficulty reducing the proportion of coal, which they have in abundance at low costs.

Historically, the United States has largely been powered by coal and oil. But coal consumption has decreased considerably over the last decade due to the boom in shale gasShale gas is found in deeply buried clayey sedimentary rock that is both the source rock and the reservoir for the gas... and renewable electricityForm of energy resulting from the movement of charged particles (electrons) through a conductor... . The country has closed a third of its mines since the start of the century.

 

Energy Mix Versus Power Generation Mix

The energy mix should not be confused with the power generation mix (also known as the electricity mix). See Close-Up: “What is the Power Generation Mix?”. The power generation mix describes the breakdown of energy sources used specifically to generate electricity. For this reason, it does not take into account issues surrounding energy use in transportation and large segments of industry and housing.

Power generation mixes are therefore very different from the corresponding energy mixes. See Featured Figures: “Power Generation by Energy Source in 2018”.

Taking the example of France, the share of nuclear in power generation was 71.7% in 2018. In the country’s overall energy mix, however, the percentage comes out at 38.5%. The shares of solar and wind, which are barely visible in the energy mix, start to become significant in the power generation mix.

It should also be noted that primary energy mix figures – which factor in each country’s consumption of all available energy sources, whether produced domestically or imported – do not match final energy consumption figures. This is because a fairly large portion of primary energy is lost in the process of converting it into secondary energySecondary energy is energy produced by converting so-called primary energy, or energy available in its natural state in the environment... .

Sources:

(1) French Sustainable Development Commission. Key Energy Figures, 2019 (in French)