China’s coal consumption has almost grown as much this century as the rest of the world’s did in the last 100 years
For decades the world was convinced that coal was dead and little but a fading relic of the Industrial Revolution. Oil had long ago overtaken coal as the dominant source of global energy – this occurred in the 1960s, and natural gas was set to overtake coal to become number two.
Since the 1920s coal’s share of global primary energy had declined continually decade after decade. That was until the 21st Century and the rise of China. Since 2000, coal’s share of global primary energy consumption has risen from 25.3% to 30%. Coal’s share is now the highest it has been since the 1960s, and it looks possible that coal will once again become the world’s number one source of energy.
The rapid growth of coal in China this century is put into context by comparing it with what has happened in countries other than China. Remarkably, China’s coal consumption has more or less grown as much as the rest of the world’s has since 1910.
To see this we need to look at historical data. Arnulf Grubler has estimated long term levels of primary energy consumption for all fuels. He estimates that global coal consumption worked out at 23.4 EJ in 1910. BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy provides up to date figures for global energy consumption from coal. Using this we can see that energy consumption from coal in countries other than China was 80.6 GJ in 2014. So, the total growth between 1910 and 2014 was around 57 EJ.
China now consumes half of the world’s coal. Total Chinese consumption in 2014 was 82.4 EJ in 2014, which was an increase of 53 EJ since 2000.
So, there you go. It took China 15 years to do what the rest of the world did in the last century.
Note on data
I have taken the data from Arnulf Grubler’s historical time series and the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. As I discuss here there are major questions about the reliability of China’s coal statistics, and it is quite possible its actual coal consumption is greater than officially claimed.