Feature Report: Understanding Electricity

3 items of content in this feature report

Going in depth

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What Is the Power Generation Mix?

The power generation mix (also known as the electricity mix) refers to the combination of the various fuels used to generate electricity in a given geographic region. It is still dominated by coal at the global level. However, this situation is expected to change significantly over the next 20 years with the sharp rise in the use of renewable energies and natural gas.

Mix electrique
Gas is advancing as a source of electricity generation around the world

The 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... generation mix varies considerably from one country to the next, depending on global markets, national policy choices and local fuelFuel is any solid, liquid or gaseous substance or material that can be combined with an oxidant... production. See Featured Figures: “Power Generation by Energy Source in 2018”.

 

Coal Is King, Gas Is Rising

x3: The share of renewable energies (excluding hydro) could be multiplied by three (or even five) by 2040.

Inexpensive and easy to produce, coalCoal is ranked by its degree of transformation or maturity, increasing in carbon content from... is currently still the main source of fuel for power generation worldwide, accounting for more than 38% of the mix in 2018. But the gap with natural gas (23.4%) is closing. Fuel is vital for transportation and industry, but is rarely used to generate electricityForm of energy resulting from the movement of charged particles (electrons) through a conductor... . Hydro is the most widely used renewable energyEnergy sources that are naturally replenished so quickly that they can be considered inexhaustible on a human time scale... (almost 16%), whereas wind (4.8%) and solar (2.2%) are growing steadily. Nuclear energyEnergy produced in nuclear power plants. The enormous amount of heat released during fission of uranium atom nuclei is transferred to water... peaks at just over 10%.

In Europe, nuclear is much more common, although several countries have committed to phasing out this power source, such as Germany, or reducing its use, such as France. Coal and natural gas represent a more or less equal share of the power generation mix, at around 20%. Wind and solar (more than 13% combined) are more developed in Europe than the rest of the world. See Feature Report: “Tables Summing Up Energy in Europe”. 

In France, nuclear remains by far the dominant source for power generation (more than 70%) due to industrial decisions made in the 1970s.1

 

The United States, China and India

In the United States, the widespread production of shale gasShale gas is found in deeply buried clayey sedimentary rock that is both the source rock and the reservoir for the gas... has caused the fuel to become significantly cheaper and lifted its share in the U.S. mix to 25%. Another consequence has been an increase in U.S. coal exports, which has driven down prices on the global market while leading to greater use of coal in other countries. This in turn has resulted in higher CO2See Carbon Dioxid emissions.

China and India continue to make heavy use of coal to generate electricity as it is cheap and easily accessible. But China is also pursuing large-scale development of nuclear power plants and onshoreRefers to land-based oil exploration and production operations, as in "onshore seismic data acquisition" or "onshore drilling". wind farms, particularly in Inner Mongolia. India, meanwhile, is expanding its number of solar farms and also has plans for nuclear power plants.

Following the Fukushima disaster in March 2011, Japan reduced its use of nuclear power by closing its plants for 14 months, making up the shortfall with coal-, gas- and oil-fired plants. It has since restarted several reactors.

Did You Know?
The power generation mix refers to the combination of the various fuels used to generate electricity in a given geographic region.

 

The IEA’s Scenarios

Trends through 2040 will depend on many factors, including the growing share of electricity used in transportation and relatively daring policies to limit global warmingGlobal warming, also called planetary warming or climate change... , focusing on energy savings, energy efficiencyIn economic terms, energy efficiency refers to the efforts made to reduce the energy consumption of a system... and new energy sources.

The International Energy Agency (IEA)An independent, intergovernmental organization founded within the framework of the OECD... has developed various scenarios for 2040 based on the extent of these efforts2. There are three constants:

  • A highly “electric” world. Power generation is set to increase by around 50% in all scenarios.
  • A renewables boom. The share of renewable electricity (excluding hydro), which amounted to 9.4% in 2018, is expected to reach 29% in the middle-of-the-road scenario, and up to 46% in the boldest of outcomes.
  • A decline in coal. The resource’s share in power generation is slated to decrease from 38% to 25%, or even as low as 4% according to the most optimistic scenario.

The share of natural gas is expected to stay at around 20%. In order to achieve the most CO2-efficient scenario, which could also reduce the share of natural gas, nuclear power would need to be significantly expanded even as ambitious carbon capture and storage policies were implemented.

 

Sources :

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

(2) See the IEA’s summary chart